A year from now, paddlers should be able to head to Nassau's southern bays toting a map showing launching areas, historic sites, waterfront restaurants and safe routes to explore without worrying about powerboat traffic and nasty currents.
After four years of planning, the South Shore Blueway Trail is moving forward with an initial public meeting next month to gain input from the paddling community and other water users.
The goal of the trail, like others further along in the planning stages on the North Shore in Nassau and western Suffolk counties, is threefold: encourage more use of the water, raise environmental awareness and boost tourism.
"The South Shore Blueway Trail . . . helps promote not only healthy living, but also an appreciation of our natural and cultural resources," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement.
The planners are encouraging participation in the development of the trail in several ways, said consultant Barbara La Rocco of Going Coastal Inc. Those interested in the project can make suggestions and take a survey at www.southshoreblueway.com and at facebook.com/south shoreblueway. The public meeting will be April 4 at 6 p.m. in the Village of Freeport Recreation Center. Those wishing to attend can register online at bit.ly/13JoNaG or on the project website.
The genesis of the trail, which the planners envision being used by thousands of kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders annually, was a proposal by Michael Fehling, of Empire Kayaks in Island Park, and Kyle Rabin, a Woodmere resident who works for a Manhattan-based environmental foundation. They asked Nassau County to use some of the $100 million from a 2006 environmental bond act to develop the paddling trail.
Brian Schneider of the county public works department said Nassau approved a $50,000 grant that was matched by the Village of Freeport through a New York Department of State grant. The creation of the website, routes, map and design for signs is expected to cost about $75,000, leaving money for improvements of launch sites and creating signs, said David Berg of Cameron Engineering & Associates, the second consulting firm developing the trail.
As a starting point, the planners will use informal routes developed by kayak rental businesses such as Fehling's and an existing Town of Hempstead water trail.
Fehling said paddlers already have some access sites at county and town parks. "But it would be nice if there was a map of the whole area so you could see the distance between spots and the skill level needed," he added.
Rabin, who is the volunteer chairman of the advisory committee working on the project, said: "Just getting people out on the water is very important in having an understanding of the local environment and being able to take action to help better protect that environment."