Water Trail partners discuss river clearing and safety improvements

Robin Racette Griffin – couriereditorial@vineyardpress.biz

    COLOMA - Representatives of the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission invited stakeholders interested in a report on the development of the Paw Paw River Water Trail to a meeting Tuesday morning at the Coloma Township Hall. Marcy Hamilton, SWMPC Deputy Executive Director and Senior Planner, and Kris Martin, SWMPC Associate Planner, with input from Kevin Haight of the Two Rivers Coalition, updated about a dozen township officials, emergency service providers, paddlers and others about the ongoing clearing of a safe paddle pathway along the Paw Paw River from Paw Paw to Benton Harbor.
    Work removing trees and debris to create a passage at least six feet wide has been competed one section at a time, starting with the stretch from the Paw Paw dam on the north end of Maple Lake to County Road 665, with two of the final sections in Berrien County left to do.
    SWMPC initiated the cleanup in 2016 with a grant awarded through the Department of Natural Re-sources. That funding has been used, and this year the SWMPC elicited voluntary financial  support from the townships and villages through which the river flows for  the annual maintenance of the pathway. Most have chipped in. Locally, Paw Paw Township, the Village of Paw Paw, the Paw Paw Downtown Development Authority and Paw Paw Area Chamber of Com-merce have each contributed to the maintenance project.
     Work was delayed early in the season due to the high water levels on the river; it was not safe to put people to work in the river. Hamilton noted for the group that the delay did not go unnoticed,  there were many inquiries and much enthusiasm for the trail to be ready for use. “When the first section was opened after July 4, we had 6,000 views on the website in 24 hours,” Hamilton said. She stressed that the website, www.pawpawriverwatertrail.org, is the best resource for paddlers, as it is updated constantly with information concerning the conditions along the river and at each put-in and take-out site.
    Martin and Hamilton reviewed a survey of those who had used the trail this summer conducted by SWMPC.  They found the most used sections to be from the Paw Paw dam to CR 665, and from Watervliet to Coloma.  
    Safe navigation of the water trail was a priority concern for all in attendance. Martin presented a preliminary design for signs that will be installed on all bridges over the river to help paddlers keep track of their location.
    Watervliet Fire Chief Dan Jones urged the group to take more immediate action to mark the trail so that paddlers in emergency situations are more able tell responders where they are. Jones and his responders have been involved in 20 river rescues over the past three years, and told the group that knowing where to access the river is key to a timely response.
    He suggested color-coding each third of each township with ribbon or tape around trees.
    When calls come in, the location of the phone is recorded, he said. “But if dispatchers can get from the caller, ‘what was the last color you saw?’ then we can pinpoint better where to access the river and get to them more quickly.”  
    Mike Mattix, Chief of the North Berrien Fire Rescue Department, supported the idea, and summed up the comments of all in attendance, stating, “Our overall goal is to make that river as safe as possible for everybody.”     
    The group agreed to move forward with the colored tags along the riverside, and to meet again next month.
    Find more information, at: www.pawpawriverwatertrail.org; or on Facebook: @pawpawriverwatertrail.

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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