Babylon Town officials are rolling out a plan to bring more paddlers onto town waters.
A map outlining 25 miles of Great South Bay kayak routes is now linked to the town's homepage. Signs identifying launch points will go up at five town locations before Memorial Day, along with one in Amityville Village. A kayak race modeled on the town's summer bike and run events is also being planned for September.
Nautical trails -- sometimes known as blueways -- have opened in recent years or are planned in the towns of Huntington, North Hempstead, Hempstead and Oyster Bay, sometimes crossing municipal lines. One of the largest, the South Shore Blueway Trail, is slated to open early this summer, stretching from the western border of the Town of Hempstead to the Nassau-Suffolk county line.
Babylon already offers summer kayak lessons to residents. Hundreds of paddlers explore its 10 square miles of bay and 120 miles of creeks and coastal waterways each year, but officials hope to grow their numbers.
"This encourages people to explore, even if you don't have a boat," said Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez, chairman of Babylon's Parks and Recreation Committee. "There are salt marshes, canals, little areas" that few town residents ever get to experience, he said, some too remote to access without a boat and some too shallow for motorboats.
A mapping project by a local Boy Scout, Ryan Lanigan, inspired the town's own effort, Martinez said, with support from a hard-core group of paddlers in the town's Department of Environmental Control.
"Once you get to the marshy islands or in the flats, you're pretty much on your own," said one of the paddlers, Brian Zitani, the town's waterways management supervisor. Zitani, who grew up in the area, kayaks recreationally and on the job, making wildlife and bird population surveys.
"You drift by, let the wind blow you," he said. "You see all kinds of shorebirds: great blue herons, little blue herons, great egrets, oystercatchers, common tern."
The planned routes have starting points at Village of Amityville Beach, Tanner Park, Venetian Shores Park, Oak Beach Park, Cedar Beach and Gilgo Beach. Babylon's plans are aimed primarily at town residents. Nonresidents would have to pay a $40 daily vehicle entrance fee.
Alan Mindlin, vice president of Long Island Paddlers, a club with about 300 members, said that price might keep some would-be paddlers away. And one of the planned routes -- a 3.5 mile loop at Oak Beach Park designated as advanced by the town map -- can be difficult even for experienced paddlers, he said, because of currents, tides, and wake from boats.
The new routes could promote interest in a side of Long Island that many overlook, said Marguerite Kohler, whose family owns the Dinghy Shop in Amityville, a water sports store that sells and rents kayaks.
"A lot of people don't realize we live on an island," she said. "They will provide a way for people to touch the water, to get into the water, and any time we can promote that, that's great."