When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of what nature has to offer.
For those who love cycling or paddling, St. Clair County offers the perfect backdrop, with plenty of parks, trails, lakes and rivers to enjoy.
That natural connection led St. Clair resident Peter Michael to organize Slow Roll and Paddle throughout the summer months.
Gearing up for its third summer, Slow Roll and Paddle will gather twice a week, at 6 p.m. Tuesdays starting June 6 for kayaking/paddleboarding, and at 7 p.m. Thursdays for biking. In past years, there have been as many as 100 riders and 50 kayakers at each event.
Each person participates for a different reason. Some like the social aspect, while others enjoy the serenity of nature.
Former China Township Clerk Kristi Donaldson began kayaking with the group because she and her husband were empty nesters looking for a new activity. They’ve been joined by singles, couples, older and younger people from multiple backgrounds, and those with differing strengths.
Donaldson has seen many families with their dogs and two-person kayaks on her trips. When her husband can’t make the slow paddles, Donaldson has taken her friends, daughters, and gone alone.
“The slow cycle is very enjoyable. You get to be outdoors in the great weather. You’re exercising and don’t realize it and being with like-minded people is a great spirit-lifter for me,” Fort Gratiot cyclist Anita Selby says. “It’s so serene and peaceful. I can socialize if I want, or I can hang to the back of the pack and just be in my own little world and work out stressful things.”
Beginners, don’t worry. The purpose of the slow rolls and paddles is simply to get together and enjoy the scenery. During the rolls, slower bikers lead the group to set pace, and faster riders can volunteer to go ahead and prepare cars at busy cross streets.
“Everybody looks out for one another,” Selby says.
Slow cycles are based in St. Clair around Riverview Plaza Park. When Michael started his business in Riverview Plaza, he noticed a good number of cyclists and kayakers and thought about how the economy and community could benefit from them. Inspired by Slow Roll Detroit, he started Slow Roll and Paddle.
The group will be trying new areas this year, like Marine City and Marysville. Last year, the pedalers had starting points in Port Huron and even biked along the Blue Water Bridge River Walk. The variety of areas makes it possible for participants to discover routes they've not explored yet, or see a familiar one in a new way.
“Have you ever walked that route you’ve driven? It’s like you see things from a different perspective when you’re riding your bike,” Selby says.
Participants are responsible for bringing their own equipment. Missy’s Kayak Connection out of Port Huron will meet up with the Slow Paddlers and bring a trailer of rentals out for a discounted price.
Owner Missy Campau’s quick tips for kayakers include wearing life jackets, dressing appropriately, paddling with a buddy, and letting someone know your expected plans including route and timing. The American Canoe Association level 2 paddling instructor and certified trip leader says kayakers should stay in waterways where they are comfortable paddling. Most of these tips are taken care of easily with group excursions.
“The Slow Paddle is a great opportunity for paddlers to get together and share stories. We have beautiful waterways that people should be enjoying,” Campau says.
Donaldson, who helped sponsor the group with Advantage Realty last year, was new to kayaking when she joined the slow paddlers two years ago. Now, she owns three kayaks with another coming soon and plans trips around the hobby. She has paddled near manatees in Florida and done a Pictured Rocks tour in the Upper Peninsula, but has also had a great time doing a moonlit kayak trip on St. John’s Marsh, near Algonac. She says the landscape closer to home provides plenty of opportunities.
“My whole life, everyone always went up north to go canoeing,” she says.
For Donaldson, some benefits of kayaking locally are navigating waterways that go toward urban settings one way, and are more rustic in the other direction.
She likes the price and convenience of kayaking. Donaldson bought her first couple of kayaks at Meijer for under $200 each.
As someone who grew up boating, she also appreciates that kayakers can see things up close they might miss while on a fast jet ski, or be too far from on a pontoon or power boat, especially in shallow areas. On local trips, Donaldson often spies eagles, great blue herons, and turtles. Navigating areas that may have been off-limits before is exciting, and she sees “untapped potential” for kayakers in the area.
The Blueways of St. Clair are water trails that act for kayakers as a bike lane would for cyclists. Donaldson says these paths, along with new launches, have made recreational plans even more popular.
“It’s something we were lacking in this area, and it’s taken off like wildfire,” she says.
Stay up to date with this summer's event with the Slow Cycle and Paddle Facebook page.