May 16, 2015 – As a kayaker who has spent the last five years doing short paddles with my two awesome future paddlers (ages 3 & 5), I was excited when we decided to “pre-paddle” the kayak event route for the Paddle Antrim Festival in September. Today was the day to get out and do the 15+ miles of Day 1 which goes from Ellsworth to Bellaire. Paddle Antrim’s president & COO of Short’s Brewing Company Matt Drake and I rounded up six other folks to join us. It was a perfect mix of avid and recreational paddlers as well as friends and new faces. We were all excited to enjoy a relaxing paddle as we headed out on our journey.
At just past 9:30, eight of us started our adventure on the sandy banks of River Park in Ellsworth. I could already envision what the sea of colorful kayaks in September will look like as I got in my boat to begin. The water was calm, temperatures in the 60s, and we all realized we were in for a perfect day of paddling. We paddled slowly, enjoying the quiet waters and good company as we all got to know each other. We meandered slowly the first 1 ½ miles through Ellsworth Lake in about 40 minutes as the clouds burned off leaving bright blue skies. After passing under the bridge into Wilson Lake we passed a friendly fisherman but the only other company we had were some great blue herons fishing near the shore.
As we made our way through the narrow stretch between Wilson Lake and Ben-way we all quieted and enjoyed the wildlife around us. On our left, we passed a goose perched on a large nest. On our right, we paused from paddling to watch a beaver paddle around the shallow waters. We counted thirteen turtles all sunning themselves on one small fallen log as we slowly passed by.
Paddling through the shallow narrow waters from Ben-way Lake into Hanley Lake, we carefully paddled around a swan who was swimming around in the water. As we continued, we saw the first of many swans perched on nests, keeping eggs warm. After two hours on the water, as we made our way into Hanley Lake, our pace quickened a bit in anticipation for our stop in Central Lake.
As we made our way into Central Lake, many friendly folks out enjoying the beautiful sunshine stopped and chatted with us from their docks. After going under the Central Lake bridge, we paddled right and pulled our boats out on the sandy beach of Thurston Park to rest. At almost the halfway point and after 3 hours in the water, it was a perfect spot to take a break and relax. Still early in the day, we had plenty of time to enjoy the park. With bathrooms and wonderful covered picnic pavilion, the park was a great spot to enjoy a nice snack and stretch before heading into Intermediate Lake.
As we headed into our last but longest lake of the day, we began to see a few motorboats out on the water but the water stayed calm as we picked up our pace energized from our rest. Near the final turn before heading into the Intermediate River, the water shallowed and so clear we could see the fish swimming about. Out in the middle of the narrow islands we saw more nesting swans enjoying the solitude. As we headed into the Intermediate River, we knew our adventure was ending. We slowed, enjoying the shallow waters and welcomed the current as it helped bring us to Bellaire’s Richardi Park in just under six hours. And our day was only complete after we met to enjoy a wonderful meal and beer at the Short’s Brewing Company pub.
As we talked, it was clear to me that this is the ideal day of kayaking for almost any paddler. With smaller, calmer waters, a good length of time and distance on the water, and lots of beautiful nature, it is just about perfect. As my husband and I drove home, he shared that 15 miles was a perfect paddle and he’d love to join me for the first half of the Paddle Antrim Festival Day 2 adventure. As for myself, I was energized, and look forward to challenging myself to the full 27 miles of Day 2 from Bellaire to Elk Rapids.
Deana, Executive Director