INTERVIEW with Phil Miller, Resource Planning Administrator, Division of Watercraft
What do you do to support outdoor recreation in Ohio?
Ohio’s waterways, including lakes, rivers and streams provide opportunities for many types of boaters to experience the outdoors. Traditionally, when we think of watercraft, we think of power boating and sailing.
The paddle sports of canoeing and kayaking, however, have become increasingly popular. To provide better recreational opportunities for hand-powered boaters, or paddlers, I have been given charge of developing and managing the Department’s Ohio Water Trails Program. So far, two water trails have been designated in Ohio.
Can you describe this program?
Water trails exist naturally; they are the rivers and streams across Ohio. Our water trails program, however, focuses on a section of a river or stream where we plan and develop public access areas or “staging areas.”
Staging areas provide boaters with a place to park, load and unload gear, relax, rest and participate in other outdoor recreation. Most importantly, these staging areas provide safe access to the waterway.
How do you develop a water trail?
Whenever you attempt to improve recreational opportunities for people, you have to consider competing recreational interests, concerns about private and public property and processes involved in developing the opportunity. These are all important considerations in our water trails program.
For example, in some cases, water trails are designed to restrict power boaters from access points so that paddlers can experience their sport without motor sounds, wakes or other disturbances that can be generated by power boaters. As we expand this program, this may become an issue for us where power boaters have access up or down stream from the designated water trail area.
Sometimes private property owners with lawns that border a water trail become concerned about noise, trespassing and other potential disturbances they suspect may arise from use of the water trail. These concerns can make planning and development of access areas to water trails a complex process that requires the involvement of a local organization to oversee planning and community cooperation.
I find that working with enthusiastic partners, grass roots organizations and local interest groups are often the best part of developing a water trail. Our division can also help by providing engineering expertise to develop access areas and funding for staging area signage and water trail brochures. The list of planning considerations that I developed explains what it takes to establish a water trail.
What is most challenging about your job?
Being patient can sometimes be the most challenging part of my job. I can see the benefits of providing new and expanded recreational opportunities through the development of water trails. But seeing projects develop from the idea phase to the reality phase takes time, resources and strong partnerships.