Northwest Discovery Trail Waterway of Yesterday

Waterway of yesterday

This story was published Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

By Anna King, Herald staff writer

The immense Empress of the North sternwheeler dwarfed Jeff Nelson’s 19-foot rowboat Tuesday afternoon at Sacajawea State Park.

Yet, the Kennewick man deftly navigated his small boat, called a wherry, about the small marina at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake rivers, as if he were the only one on the water — nevermind the weighty nearby riverboat churning up the water.

Nelson, 47, had more important things on his mind. He rowed out to a nearby spit where a sign will be installed marking the newly designated Northwest Discovery Water Trail.

On Saturday, Nelson and others will dedicate the trail by traveling down a 12-mile stretch of the Columbia through the Tri-Cities.

“People are learning that this is really a great way to be,” Nelson said of floating quietly on the river, without the aid of internal combustion engines. “The animals, the scenery — it’s all really stellar.”

The 367-mile trail runs from Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho down the Snake and Columbia rivers to Bonneville Dam. There it links with the Lower Columbia River Water Trail, which continues on to the Pacific Coast.

The route is more than 500 miles long and has more than 200 sites for launching motorized and nonmotorized boats and picnicking and camping.

Nelson said he hasn’t paddled the whole trail that follows Lewis and Clark’s 200-year-old journey. But he said the trail is enjoyable even in small sections.

Nelson said he expects a flotilla of least 30 boats to help dedicate the trail but hopes others will join in the river soiree. Nonboaters are welcome to attend the dedication ceremony at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco, and there are a small number of boats available for those who don’t have their own but would like to participate. Those interested are asked to call ahead first.

On Sunday, river enthusiasts plan another trip going 17 miles from Hat Rock State Park through McNary Dam to Irrigon.

The trail was established by federal, state and local agencies and clubs.

Nelson said planning started in 1991 but really became focused about three years ago. He said organizers hope the trail will help bring more tourism and economic opportunity to the riverside communities it passes through.