By: Tom Bamonte
Saturday was a day of celebration for the region's paddlers. Erik Olson, Bill Burton, Gary Steinbauer and I got an early start, launching from the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk (PLR) at about 9 a.m. For the next hour and a half we explored the industrial area to the east of this pocket park.
When we got to the entrance of Burns Harbor a fisherman warned us against proceeding into the harbor. We had wanted to paddle to a moored freighter. The fisherman mentioned $1,500 fines and unfriendly security personnel in fast boats. Sure enough, at one side of the harbor entrance--but not the side we were on--there was a warning sign.
From Burns Harbor we paddled to Marquette Park in Gary to join a flotilla of paddlers who were paddling to the PLR for an celebration of the dedication of the first leg of the Lake Michigan Water Trail. It appears that there were over 30 paddlers in our group. Other paddlers joined us later from a route up the river that empties into Lake Michigan next to the PLR.
Along the way, I got a chance to talk to Dan Plath. Dan has been one of the key forces behind the Lake Michigan Water Trail and perhaps the person most responsible for the opening of the first stretch of the trail, which extends from Chicago around the southern curve of Lake Michigan. The trail offers camping spots and other support facilities for kayakers at regular intervals along the route. Dan is also one of the key members of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association.
Dan filled me in on some of the challenges faced by the Water Trail organizers and outlined how he and his colleagues (including CASKA's Gary Mechanic) built a coalition of public agencies, private industry and landowners to support the Water Trail. Other than a few folks who at public hearings raised the specter of kayakers bringing mayham, diseases and more to local communities (Dan has the tape),there has been little opposition to the Water Trail. Dan did report that he expected the most difficult challenge to be finding landing sites and camping areas in the stretch of Lake Michigan that runs through the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. Watch for upcoming opportunities to make your support for the Water Trail known in those communities.
The celebration was held in the pavilion at the PLR. It is a LEED-certified structure that has inspired me ever since I first visited last fall. There is a simplicity and grace to the design that is very nice. The swoops of its curves express quite nicely the forces of the winds and waves that have shaped the Indiana Dunes.
Dan was one of the speakers, sharing his vision of the Lake Michigan Water Trail as the longest water trail in the world. I'm sure I'm not the only one inspired by his quiet, self-effacing model of effective leadership.
There was more to celebrate that day. Kristen and Tim Flentye were spotted doting on their youngster, approaching a first birthday in August and no doubt expecting a new Epic racing boat. Tom and Peg Heineman were there. Tom's circumnavigation of Lake Michigan a few years ago and the struggles he had to find camping spots in many stretches helped inspire the Lake Michigan Water Trail effort. Humberto Garcia was back on the water for the first time in many months, after a difficult year, and it was great to seem him pulsating with energy once again. Jim Des Jardins and Beverly Serrell added their usual good cheer and panache. I even witnessed Mike Croak back where he belongs, in a sea kayak.
And let's not forget Captain Michael Taylor. Earlier in the week he had made what I thought was a very rash move, namely, making it known on the CASKA Yahoo Group that he had gotten his roll. My experience--personal and otherwise--is that the gap between hitting your first roll and getting a reliable roll is measured in months if not years.
When I saw Michael on Saturday I teased him a bit about his bold proclamation and made him promise to show off his new roll. I fully expected him to fail and I planned to use this as the basis for a blog post on hubris, roll techniques, the school of hard knocks, and the like. Darned if Michael did not just hit one roll, he hit several in succession with aplomb. That too was cause for celebration on this sweet day of friendship, effective leadership and the successful opening of the Lake Michigan Water Trail