Not much more than a decade ago, planning a kayaking or canoeing trip of any distance on the Clinton River was not just difficult.
It was impossible.
With piles of fallen trees, garbage, shopping carts, tires and other debris stacking up and clogging up untold sections of the river, it resembled more of an obstacle course than a relaxing recreational resource.
Gerard Santoro, program manager for the land and water resources group of the Macomb County office of planning and economic development, remembers when a member of the kayak and canoeing industry told him the Clinton River could never be a paddling destination due to the debris and the amount of clean up that would be required.
Today, the river flows virtually unobstructed, thanks to a change of mindset that sees the river as an economic recreational attraction and a chance to show off the beauty of one of southeast Michigan’s great natural resources.
‘For the first time in my lifetime, the entire river is completely open for navigation for paddlers,’ Santoro said.
Showcasing the beauty of the Clinton River is just one of the many tasks currently being undertaken by Terrain 360, a virtual mapping company that will provide 360-degree panoramic images of not only waterways but also hike and bike trails throughout southeastern Michigan. Think Google Maps for waterways and trails.
The Richmond, Virginia-based company is being contracted through SEMCOG, the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, to map the recreational trails for all participating communities — including Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Once complete, the 360-degree mapping data will be available through SEMCOG’S Michigan Parkfinder‘s app and on individual county websites. The $70,000 cost is divided among the member counties and partially funded through a federal grant.
In total, more than 680 miles of hiking, biking and water trails in southeastern Michigan will be captured via digital imaging.
‘From Port Huron to the River Raisin,’ said Terrain 360 owner Ryan Abrahamsen.
Using a 16-foot catacraft pontoon boat, with a 10-foot pole equipped with six still cameras all taking a pictures at the same time every couple of seconds, Abrahamsen captures the 360-degree data and will match the photos with GPS coordinates. An onboard computer with software created by Abrahamsen, controls the camera information, everything from shutter speed to lighting.
‘All we have to worry about is driving the boat straight,’ Abrahamsen quipped.
He spent Friday mapping part of the coastline of Lake St. Clair before moving into the Clinton River. Other members of Terrain 360 are mapping hike and bike trails on specialized trikes equipped with similar technology. And when the trikes don’t have access to more rustic trails, backpack-mounted equipment is used to walk the trails. The company has completed similar projects all across the country.
‘It will really showcase the beauty of the outdoors,’ Abrahamsen said. ‘Most people don’t see these places. Sometimes people are afraid to come to locations like this, from not being aware that they exist, or because they’re too scared of crime or water levels. But they may not understand what it’s all about until they see it. This information will used in education, school kids can explore waterways or trails, by conservation groups, and for species identification.’
Santoro envisions the mapping technology being used to pre-plan for a trip — seeking information about where the waterway can be accessed, where boat launch areas can be identified, and prospective paddlers can making sure a section of a waterway fits their comfort level.
‘We believe this is a great way to educate the people of southeast Michigan about the incredible water assets that are readily available,’ Santoro said. ‘There is such a lack of knowledge about what’s really accessible here.’
The virtual mapping will continue into August, and Abrahamsen said some of the information should be ready by this fall. Thus far, the entire Macomb Orchard Trail bike/hike trail has been captured, as has the connecting trail from the Macomb Orchard Trail to Yates Cider Mill and down to Gene Shepherd Park in Shelby Township. Another trail along the Clinton River that goes upstream from downtown Utica into River Bends Park and out to Ryan Road has also been captured.
In Oakland County, the Clinton River Trail has been completed, along with Addison Oaks, the Paint Creek Trail, the West Bloomfield Trails and the Polly Ann Trail, which connects the communities of Orion Township, Oxford Township, the village of Oxford, Addison Township, and the village of Leonard.
Eventually, Santoro said, in Macomb County all 42 miles of the Clinton River, from Yates Cider Mill to the mouth of the river as it opens up into Lake St. Clair will be mapped, as well the Spillway, the Salt River and the entire 35-mile coastline of Lake St. Clair. The complete three-dimensional capability of the mapped areas probably won’t be available online until next spring, Santoro said.
Next year, mapping will continue up into some of the canals along the Nautical Mile, the Freedom Trail along Metropolitan Parkway, the Spillway trail, and some of the eastside connectors if funding is approved.
Across the SEMCOG region, other areas that will be mapped include:
Livingston County: 20 miles of Lakelands State Park Trail.