paddle antrimOn September 18th and 19th more than one hundred people who take heart in the Chain of Lakes will man kayaks for the 1st Annual Paddle Antrim Festival—two days of sublime Northern Michigan paddling on one awe-inspiring water trail. Antrim County nonprofit Paddle Antrim teamed up with communities along the waterway to roll out this non-competitive festival packed with fun pit stops and celebrations for paddlers and the whole community to enjoy.

“When we looked at the Chain of Lakes we saw so many organizations that care about it,” says Paddle Antrim president and Short’s Brewing Co. COO Matt Drake. After 5 years of successfully hosting the Short’s to Short’s Paddle, which took paddlers 27 miles thru the Chain of Lakes from Short’s pub in Bellaire to the Production Facility in Elk Rapids, the momentum became too demanding. “Because it was so successful, it got to a point where it was too big for us to operate anymore.” That’s when a new conversation opened. When Drake started talking about rethinking the event’s potential, he learned that a similar conversation had already been happening among county commissioners.

In 2014, collaboration came in the wake of the state and the DNR declaring the Chain of Lakes, a 75-mile waterway consisting of 14 lakes, as a designated water trail. In the spring, merging the Short’s to Short’s concept with community and chamber goals blossomed into a nonprofit. That’s when current Director and Kalkaska resident Deana Jerdee came on board. Today every chamber along the Chain is a member of Paddle Antrim’s Board.

Paddle Antrim has grown much larger than just an event. At the heart of the celebration is the mission to “educate, preserve and provide access to the water trail,” says Drake. In many ways the festival will leverage Paddle Antrim’s vital mission to adopt the water trail. “The state can come in and declare a waterway as a water trail but then what happens? It’s essentially just a route on a map. What we want to do is promote the trail and make sure that paddlers who come to use it have things like signage, amenities, launch sites, and handicap accessibility,” says Drake. As an ancillary entity, Paddle Antrim plans to award mini grants to organizations and other nonprofits working toward goals associated with educating, preserving and providing access to the water trail.

The 2015 festival kicks off in the charming town of Ellsworth where paddlers drop in at Ellsworth Lake and paddle 16-miles to the Day One destination of Bellaire. Ellsworth is rolling out the red carpet. You can literally camp in Ellsworth and have meals provided the night before and the morning of, get 2-for-1 camping and then walk out to your kayak for the first stretch. Central Lake gives paddlers a reason to stop at the half way point, stretch their legs and experience the community, including a complimentary lunch. Day One culminates with Bellaire’s Block Party hosted by the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce. Volunteers will be on hand to help transport kayaks across M-88 to prepare for the Day Two paddle.

On Day Two, paddlers rise early to man their yaks in downtown Bellaire and traverse 27 miles through Lake Bellaire, world-renowned Torch Lake and Elk Lake. For paddlers concerned about enduring the full 27 miles, there’s the “Choose Your Own Adventure” option which provides kayakers who aren’t interested in enduring the entire stretch with shorter paddles and ideal destinations like the Dockside restaurant and downtown Alden. Day Two wraps with an all out bash in the Open Space hosted by the Elk Rapids Downtown Merchant Group. The Paddle Antrim FInal Bash greets yakers ashore to revel in Short’s Beer provided by sponsor Imperial Beverage, good eats by Siren Hall and wine provided by Elk Rapid’s new wine shop, Cellar 152. East Jordan-based band the Sleeping Gypsies will light up the night with a romping blend of blues, swing and rock.

Logistically speaking, paddlers have little to worry about in the way of transportation and safety. Director Deana Jerdee reflects on the community support, “It takes a tremendous amount of volunteers in each community to support this event and I am so pleased with the amazing support we have received from the local communities that we have almost all volunteer positions filled.” Free overnight kayak storage is provided each night so paddlers can show up ready to roll out. Paddle Antrim’s Livery Service will allow paddlers to park cars at check points for convenience. Bathrooms and safety boats will be strategically located along the route, and Shanty Creek’s vans will be ready to respond to any emergencies.

Because of the generosity of corporate sponsors and private donors registration prices have been reduced. To participate costs $45.00 for one day or $72 for both days. Sponsors include Short’s Brewing Company, Imperial Beverage, Green Carbon, Fischer Insurance, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Rotary Club of Elk Rapids, Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, Image 360, Grand Traverse Resort, Butch’s Tackle & Marine, Parallel Solutions, Shanty Creek Resorts, Stobert Dental, Dockside, and Bailey Designs & Consulting.

Paddle Antrim is spearheading a mission that will benefit Antrim County waterways and reward the work of those dedicated to maintaining water quality. “We’re excited to collaborate with and provide additional financial support to the awesome nonprofits that already exist…We can’t go out and fight all of the invasive species, or educate every boater about how to proceed thru the Grass River Natural Area in a way that won’t harm the environment. There are organizations doing that already and we want to support them,” says Drake.

Find out how to register and learn more about Paddle Antrim here.

To learn more about the Chain of Lakes and surrounding areas check out the MyNorth Vacation Guide!

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Photo(s) by Matt Drake