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Home > The Gateways Network > Tools > Water Trail Toolbox > Managing a Water Trail > Water Trail Toolbox: Conservation and Education
Water Trail Toolbox: Conservation and Education

At all times, the water trail organization must be vigilant about protecting—and, better yet, enhancing—the natural qualities of the waterway itself. By initiating a series of conservation projects and education programs, the organization not only protects the waterway but gains a cadre of water trail supporters.

Tracking Visitor Use

Trail managers should track visitor use to evaluate environmental or social impacts. Keep track of visitor use through:

  • Logbooks at access points, day-use areas, and campsites
  • Permit systems
  • Car counts at access points
  • Interviews with managers of boat liveries, outfitters, campgrounds, and bait-and-tackle shops
  • Surveys of trail users

Look for changes in vegetative cover and soil compaction at campsites and other land-based sites. Use photo stations and measurements to evaluate impacts.

Measure social impacts by asking users about encounters with other visitors on the water and at campsites and about their perceptions of the trail experience.

Conservation and Restoration Projects

Help local and state conservation agencies monitor water quality and restore habitats. Conduct fisheries surveys, check for invasive plants and animals, protect endangered species, and look for beneficial plants like submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Conduct semiannual drives to remove litter and trash along the waterway. Help pinpoint water pollution problems by surveying aquatic insect populations and conducting bacteria, nitrogen, oxygen, salinity, and turbidity tests.

Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace Code of Outdoors Ethics program is a good way to teach low-impact use of the trail to children and adults. Promote these seven LNT principles in brochures, trail guides, signs and exhibits (see for more information):

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

Paddling Trips or Sojourns

Conduct multi-day paddling trips that include camping overnight at various locations, festive meals, educational talks, and informal meetings with elected officials to celebrate the waterway and to build an educated constituency (see for their Sojourn Organizers Guide).

Some groups, such as the Harrisburg , Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, take inner city youngsters on paddling trips along a river trail after completing a three-day Red Cross canoeing course.

Other groups sponsor canoe races, learn-to-paddle days, and boating safety courses. At Pennsylvania 's Lehigh River , the Wildlands Conservancy promotes a bikes-and-boat event. Visitors paddle down a water trail and then hop on a rental bike to return upstream via a riverside trail.

Natural and Cultural Heritage Programs

Conduct interpretive programs focusing on the local archeological, historical, and natural history features to enhance the community's awareness of why people settled along waterways and the importance they play in their day-to-day lives. Use professional outfitters, as well as your own staff members and volunteers, to serve as interpretive guides. Ask local birders to conduct birdwatching excursions on the waterway and on adjacent lands—a good way to attract families and cultivate stewardship attitudes.

Besides conducting guided programs, consider developing a series of interpretive wayside exhibits about early settlements, water-powered mills, American Indian villages, canals, bridges, river crossings, and maritime history.

Festivals and Celebrations

Sponsor and participate in river and water festivals and reenactments to attract people who may not otherwise visit a water trail or waterfront to interest them in your trail and provide information about conservation issues. Share the spotlight and the workload with outfitters, fishing and boating businesses and organizations, and parks and recreation agencies.


Do not forget that water trails attract many individuals who are more interested in the physical recreational aspects of using a water trail than they are in learning about its natural and historic features. They may enjoy the pure pleasure of getting some exercise and getting away from their workaday worlds by paddling down a scenic waterway. Similarly, some people may use your water trail to spend a day fishing from their boat or canoe or from a favorite spot along the banks. They, too, may become some of the trail's strongest supporters.

Boat Shows

Participate in area boat shows to provide information about your water trail and its relationship to the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay .

Other Sites of Interest:

These websites contain information on water quality monitoring:

  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation

For information about cleaning up waterways and shorelines:

  • American Outdoors
  • Sierra Club
  • Water Keeper Alliance
  • NOAA Community-Based Habitat Restoration Program

Contact these organizations for educational programming information:

  • Earth Force
  • Stroud Water Research Center
  • Clearwater Education Center
  • Sierra Club Inner City Outings
  • Youth Outdoor Adventure Program/Penn. Environmental Council

Additional sources of water trail information:

  • American Canoe Association
  • American Whitewater
  • Chesapeake Light Craft
  • Professional Paddlesports Association
  • The Trade Association of Paddlesports

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