Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's June 2021 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.

More than 99 miles of state-recognized water trail opened in Antrim County during a late May ceremony.

Paddle Antrim Executive Director Deana Jerdee said in September they installed signs at 84 access sites along the Chain of Lakes, which stretches from Ellsworth to Elk Rapids.

“It was the end of the season, so we waited to do an official launch,” Jerdee said. “It took a lot of partners and a lot of funders to make this happen.”

About 19 entities own portions along the Chain of Lakes, and Paddle Antrim serves as host. Jerdee said this means they work with those organizations, businesses and individuals to support and improve local waterways.

For example, the Elk Rapids nonprofit funded sign and kiosk installation at access sites to provide information for water trail users.

“We made sure from the water’s edge there’s a sign so people know where to exit not on private property,” Jerdee said. “There are emergency exit spots. The kiosks at the trailheads have full maps.”

Paddle Antrim also created waterproof flipbooks titled “Chain of Lakes Paddler’s Guide” that show access sites, routes and bathroom locations. Jerdee added that the Avenza Maps mobile application provides routes based on current location on the water.

George Grazul is an avid paddler, though he only become one in the last few years. The Old Mission Peninsula resident said Paddle Antrim classes helped him gain necessary skills, like safety methods.

Grazul said he began volunteering with Paddle Antrim in 2019. He provided information from booths in Elk Rapids and guided the Paddle Antrim Festival.

Most recently, he helped Jerdee with the signs along the Chain of Lakes water trail. He said he is a “hands-on person” who prefers “manual work,” so this role was a perfect fit.

“The new maps and signs are very self-explanatory and they’re not too far apart,” he said.

Though the pandemic led to class cancellations, Gruzal said he plans to continue paddling the Chain of Lakes and get as much involved with Paddle Antrim as possible this year.

“My favorite areas are in the Upper Chain,” he said, referring to the portion from Ellsworth to Bellaire. “It’s not populated with houses. It’s nice and peaceful and there’s plenty of wildlife. I’ve had otters swim under my boat.”

He added that he also enjoys exploring Grass River, which flows near Bellaire.

The 2020 Paddle Antrim Festival was canceled, but this year’s event is scheduled from Sept. 17-18. Jerdee said it is a non-competitive paddle along the Chain of Lakes Water Trail. She added that activities may include some modifications because of the pandemic.

Additionally, community members and visitors can check the Paddle Antrim schedule for monthly group paddles along the water trail this summer.

“This year we’re hoping to get people back on the water,” Jerdee said. “We’re really excited to host events.”

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