The mere existence of a river, bay, ocean coast, or lake does not constitute a water trail. A water trail is a defined route that passes through a scenic area that includes various points of interest instead of a single element. The route must be appealing to attract trail users.
The waterway is obvious, but where to locate the trail's beginning, end, stopping-off points, and facilities depends on several factors: nearby roads, existing and potential access points and parking areas, current and potential camping areas, and other overnight accommodations. The types of boats that will be used will influence the design of your trail, particularly the kinds of access points and the distances between them—paddle craft requiring more frequent access points than power or sail boats.
Locating facilities requires compromises. Adding an access site and parking area will cause some damage to the natural environment. Not adding an access site can result in trail users creating numerous illegal sites in environmentally sensitive areas. Try to deal with this quandary by building attractive facilities away from sensitive areas. If developing in sensitive areas, consider “hardening” the site with a gravel surface to increase resistance to foot trampling. (The State of Virginia Division of Conservation and Recreation has developed guidelines for development of access and camping areas in riparian areas.)
Bring the user groups into the planning process. Paddler clubs, powerboat associations, outfitters, guides, marinas, and sports shops will help solve development questions and conflicting requirements.
Here are a few tips about locating trail facilities:
Access points, or launch sites, should connect the trail with nearby roads or portage trails. Launch sites may be small and simple for car-top and hand-carried boats. They have to be relatively large, paved, or hardened, for boats transported on trailers. Access points should be close enough to insure safe, manageable traveling distances from one to another. They need to be frequently placed on trails restricted to nonmotorized boats. Launching areas need to have adequate parking that is safe and patrolled by law enforcement authorities. Vehicles with trailers need two to three times as much parking space as those with car-top boat racks.
Day-use sites are destination points along the trail where camping is not permitted. They may have landings, picnic areas, swimming areas, potable water supply or waste disposal facilities. A day-use area, however, may be as simple as a point of interest, with no facilities.
Overnight accommodations include campsites, hostels, bed and breakfasts, inns, and motels. Take advantage of facilities that already exist. Then, turn to local paddlers, boaters, planners, and natural resource officials to determine suitable locations that could be developed to fill gaps. Campsites should have durable surfaces. Facilities to store boats and gear either should be available at the landing, campsite, or lodging facility. Provide information about town docks and marinas.
Orientation signs with a trail map should be posted at all launch sites and camping areas. Ideally, include the map in an kiosk along with information about the trail, and messages about safety, boating regulations, “Leave No Trace practices” and resource protection. Other exhibits at these sites could interpret interesting natural and historical features.
A potable water system that meets state health department regulations is costly to install. Most long-distance paddlers expect to carry a supply of water that will last several days. Inform boaters about the availability of drinking water in water trail map and guides, , on orientation signage, and on the trail's website, so they can plan and manage accordingly.
Disposal of human waste is a major issue at launch sites, campsites, and day-use areas. Composting toilets or outhouses can be provided, but they are expensive. Local regulations may dictate the method used. In many wilderness areas human waste must be packed out. Visit ( www.mita.org ) and search for pack-it-out information.
NOTE: Access sites and facilities should be carefully planned and managed to prevent damage to fragile resources—and to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For more information about ADA requirements, contact your state parks or natural resource agency and visit ( www.adata.org ) or ( www.adainfo.org ).