Tourism Sault Ste. Marie has installed a fully accessible canoe/kayak launch at the Bellevue Marina that was ready for use this past weekend.
The concept was brought forth by City Staff & Tourism Sault Ste. Marie in response to a recognized need to activate the waterfront and for features that could draw more tourists directly into the city. The project also represents a win for the community as it adds a great recreation option and also another means of access for individuals hoping to get out and enjoy our beautiful waterways.
"Discussions took place between some of the local kayak and canoe tour groups including Thrive Tours & Canoes for Conservation regarding the need to have more access points along the St. Marys River," says Travis Anderson, Director Tourism & Community Development for the city.
The city will assess the usage to determine if more launches are needed.
The launch was placed and ready for use this past weekend and will remain in place throughout the season. It will then be removed for the winter months.
In terms of parking for launch use, Anderson recommends the east side of the parking lot in proximity to the launch system but avoiding parking in the boat tie-down area which is the area along the shoreline where the launch is situated and is clearly signed.
Users should be mindful of other boaters and follow all appropriate water safety protocols. Also, users should be respectful of others and allow them to safely enter or exit the dock before accessing it.
On Saturday I ventured down to the marina where a brisk southwest wind dominated and I caught up with a few paddlers who had ventured out and made use of the launch.
Derek Chisholm - a dad, told me his wife sent him the link to the initial release, she kept the children and sent him on his way to adventure. He loved the idea of the accessibility and closeness to home and felt it was a welcome addition to the community.
He chose to go downriver in his kayak and fish returning to the launch and changing direction with the wind to make his exit. He had no difficulty using the launch but did get a little wet. Chisholm felt he would use it as often as he could.
Jeff Bonnell and Stefanie Maione took the opportunity to embark on a paddle and try the new launch out on Saturday which happened to be Jeff's first day of vacation. Their vigorous paddle took them around Topsail Island as far as Algoma University and back.
As each made their way to the launch they approached with the wind. Both exited the water with ease reporting no difficulty but getting wet. This was Jeff's first paddle in a kayak in many years and he was glad to see the addition to the waterfront. They felt they would make it a regular occurrence.
Being a regular paddler to the St. Marys River my husband and I chose to head out early Sunday morning before the wind picked up so we could enjoy the shoreline upriver. I found the launch easy to use however in our case we have wider kayaks with more of a flat bottom that did not catch the rollers totally so it was a little more work pulling up and pushing off.
My biggest consideration was how to deal with the paddle while both exiting and entering the water. In this case, your paddle is supposed to ride the top rail ahead of you while you use your arms unless you can tuck your paddle away so it is secure running the same length as your kayak either attached to the side or inside so it does not impede your movement.
Overall I feel it is a step in the right direction for the city. I would like to see more of these launches in other locations around the waterfront taking into account public consultation as well. Most of all I would like to see those who may have limited mobility get out and make use of this great piece of equipment that we have been gifted with.
For anyone else interested, there is another of these launches and has been there for several years at the Prince Twp. Marina at Gros Cap.