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Columbia Water Trail is another draw for visitors

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North Central Washington could become an important destination for flat-water paddlers with the development of the Greater Columbia Water Trail that extends from Kettle Falls to the Tri-Cities, predicts Skip Johnson, the president of the Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club. That would provide tourists with another important reason to visit the area.

The profile of the club has been greatly elevated the last few years by hosting the David Thompson Brigade in the summer of 2011, which drew hundreds of visitors from around the region to see the re-enactment of the explorer's 1811 journey down the Columbia. They've also developed paddling clinics for more than 5,000 elementary students.

The water trail project was near and dear to former Chelan County Port Economic Development Director Ron Johnston Rodriguez, who happens to be a member of the Row and Paddle Club. When he retired from the port district, an arrangement was worked out for the club to take over the promotion of the water trail, with Johnston-Rodriguez continuing to work on the project, Johnson said.

On the club's web site (wenatcheepaddle.org), there are ten pages devoted to specific sections of the river, showing amenities available for camping, descriptions of landscape features and places to put in and take out. That information was added to the website just a few weeks ago. Johnson believes that our area can become a destination for paddlers coming from Western Washington and beyond who want to experience all or part of the 500-mile water trail.

He sees the possibility of making other connections with important events and features of our region, such as leveraging the Ice Age Floods National Geogtraphic Trail. When paddlers are on the river, they are in a perfect position to see and appreciate the geologic formations and consider how those forces shaped the region.

Johnson has been passionate about paddling since he went on a Wenatchee YMCA trip to Ross Lake as a youngster. He's been an avid supporter and participant ever since.

His eyes light up when he talks about what kids experience when they have their first experience on the water. After learning the basics of paddling and what to do in various situations such as when a paddle is dropped, they get to see Mission Ridge, Saddle Rock and other features of our valley from a unique perspective that captures their imagination.

In the process, they also learn a lot about cooperation and communication — lessons that resonate with the kids and their teachers. "We've gotten thousands of thank-you notes that say it was the best experience they've ever had," said Johnson.

The development of the water trail is one more reason for people to move their business to this region or to visit and take advantage of all we have to offer. We are far more than just the Apple Capital of the World.

If you'd like to see my video interview with Johnson, log onto wenatcheeworld.com and select videos.

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