Hiawatha paddling festival – kayaking in Michigan’s upper peninsula

Advancing the theme “Celebrating Nature & Paddling”, the Les Cheneaux Islands Community and Woods & Water Ecotours are beginning a new paddling festival in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sponsors anticipate great opportunities for learning with well-known professional instructors facilitating the event. Activities are open to families and paddlers at all levels of experience.

Hiawatha paddling festival - kayaking in Michigan's upper peninsula

Setting – The Hiawatha Paddling Festival will be held at Cedar Campus on Lake Huron in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The campus encompasses 500 acres of woodlands and six miles of Lake Huron shoreline. Operated by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Cedar Campus offers many different levels of accommodation from rustic camping to resort style lodging. The popular conference center will provide significant facilities to support a successful festival experience with classroom sessions, lodging and meals will be provided for participants at the campus. The Les Cheneaux Island archipelago is known for its wooded shorelines and natural assets. The Les Cheneaux Island Community takes in 12 miles of Lake Huron shoreline and encompasses the two villages of Cedarville and Hessel. The region is noted for providing excellent tourism support and marina services.

Program – Four focus areas are currently identified. A tentative schedule is posted on the festival website.

Recreational Kayaking and Canoeing – Appropriate watercraft use, paddle strokes and effective rescues
Family Paddling – Skill building sessions in paddle strokes, effective rescues, group dynamics and towing
Beginning Coastal Kayaking – Stroke, bracing and turning skills, group rescues, rolling and boat handling skills
Dry-land Topics – Navigational skills, marine weather, visual distress signals, choosing the right boat, appropriate gear and paddling opportunities
Staff – An impressive staff has been assembled for the first Hiawatha Paddling Festival. Sponsors anticipate additional quality staff members as the festival approaches in September and schedule is finalized.

Jessie Hadley – ACA Instructor: Owner of Woods & Water Ecotours in the Les Cheneaux Islands and one of the festival organizers
Lori Stegmier – ACA Instructor: Instructor with backcountry and wilderness kayaking experience. Lori enjoys working with beginners on the basics of kayaking
Belinda Lee – ACA Instructor: Instructor with symposium experience and involvement in the Becoming an Outdoor Women Program. Belinda believes kayaking is a great sport for all of us
Michael Gray – ACA Instructor: Professional kayak guide with experience in waters of Alaska, New Zealand and Belize. Michael has many experiences to share with festival students
Bill Kinjornski – Canoe instructor for the Hiawatha Paddling Festival
Kimberli Bindschatel – Nature Presenter: Author of Whisper in the Woods Nature Journal. Kimberli finds inspiration in nature and shares what it can offer students
Dr. Dave Ewert – Nature Presenter: Director of Conservation Science for the Great Lakes Program of the Nature Conservancy. Dave brings to the festival a sharing of his extensive experience coastline and island protection in the Great Lakes.

The Hiawatha Paddling Festival in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula represents only one of many paddling opportunities available in the northern reaches of the state. Writer Evelyn Kanter provides more detail in the article Kayak or Canoe in Michigan on the waters near Traverse City on Michigan’s northwest coast.

Hiawatha paddling festival

Defensive Swimming in Swift Water

Paddlers should know some basic strategies for swimming in swift water. Accidents happen and paddlers can expect to be thrown in the water at some point in their career. Defensive swimming is a basic safety skill that can be mastered by any paddler. Preparation and practice will improve your boating safety skills.

Safety Equipment – Always Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Wearing a PFD provides a person swept into fast moving water time to adequately respond to the emergency. Once the head is underwater and the gasping reflex begins, rational decision-making disappears. Purchase a rope throw bag and practice using it. Once you learn how to use one, a line can quickly be placed to a person in the water. This is one of the safest methods available to implement a water related rescue. Always be prepared to throw a line and never attach it to the rescuer. Paddlers operating in swift water should seriously consider wearing head protection. One bounce off a rock will reinforce the need for a good helmet.

Get Behind the Boat – If thrown in the water, stay with your boat and remain on top of it or upstream from it. If staying with the boat means traveling into a dangerous situation or interferes with rescue attempts, abandon it.

Assume the Position – While being swept along in a swift current, swimmers should float on their back with the feet pointing downstream. The knees should be bend and heels placed slightly lower than the buttocks. Never put your feet down while swimming in a fast moving river. Injuries and deaths occur each year for violating this rule. Feet can be entrapped or vertically pinned in rock cracks, between rocks and under debris. Do not put your feet down until you reach a safe eddy or rescuers have swung you to shore on a thrown line.


Fending Off Obstacles – Use your legs and arms to fend off rocks. As you contact rocks in the river, a swimmer in the correct position can flatten out to slide over flat rocks and use the feet to fend off larger ones. Hands and arms are used to reposition the swimmer after contact with a rock and get the feet pointing downstream again.

Lunge Up Into Strainers – Strainers are things like logs, brush or tree branches lying across the river that allow water to pass, but hold back solid objects. A different strategy is required when being swept into a strainer. Change to a swimming position and aggressively swim at a right angle to the current until past the danger and return to floating on your back. If it is apparent you will not clear the strainer, swim aggressively towards it, building momentum and try to pull or lunge over the obstruction. Strainers pose a deadly risk to swimmers in swift water.

Practice Self-Rescue Skills – Swim for the shore using a ferry angle of 45 degrees to the river current. If someone throws you a rope bag, grab for the line and not the bag. Learning aggressive swim techniques with a qualified instructor will greatly improve your self-rescue abilities.

Training – Take a swift water rescue class or river safety clinic were a qualified instructor can practice defensive swimming with you and demonstrate were aggressive swimming techniques are required.

Review your gear list prior to each trip. It will change as your experience increases and conditions change.

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