Wooden canoes to invade park

The Upper Peninsula is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders that are easily accessible for residents and visitors of the region to enjoy, including countless waterways that beckon to boaters and anglers.

These waters range from small trout streams and picturesque little ponds to wide, fast flowing streams and three of the Great Lakes.

Many anglers combine their love of fishing with boating, using watercraft to reach those honey holes where trout, salmon, walleye, pike, perch and blue gill are coaxed from the waters.

Other watersports enthusiasts use just as varied a collection of boats for pleasure, whether paddling and rowing across an inland lake or shooting across a Great Lakes bay in a high-powered boat.

The crafts used by these water-loving recreationists vary as much as their users do, from tiny kayaks and row boats to lengthy power and sail-driven boats.

Perhaps the most pleasant way to enjoy the water wonderland, though, is from one of the earliest types of boats to ply area waters, carrying passengers long before European settlers began spreading across the region.

This craft is the venerable canoe, and I’ve had the pleasure of owning two or three of them for many years. These slender, quiet boats have been eased into little areas of streams, lakes and beaver ponds where big brook trout call home, as well as carried me on sightseeing tours along the Lake Superior shoreline.

While nearly all canoes are now made of aluminum or some sort of synthetic material, by far the most beautiful ones are made of wood. These wood crafts can be either covered with cedar strips, canvas or birch bark, but they all have that unmistakable interior of finely crafted wood.

Some are new ones built by expert craftsmen, but the vast majority of wood canoes seen floating across the water are older vessels, many restored to pristine condition.

For canoe enthusiasts who may want to get a close look at a variety of these classic canoes, there’s an event going on this weekend at the Tourist Park in Marquette that they will want to attend.

A regional assembly of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association is the event, and it’s being hosted by the association’s U.P. Chapter.

More than 50 association members had signed up for the gathering by mid-week, and the crafts they will bring with them will undoubtedly turn some heads.

The activities get under way at about 10 a.m. Saturday and run all day, with a grand parade of wooden canoes at the Tourist park beach wrapping up the day at 7:30 p.m.

In between there will be a host of activities, including birch bark, laminate and wood canvas canoes, all hand made, on display for viewing. Some will be more than 100 years old, restored to mint condition, while other will be of recent construction.

There will also be a variety of demonstrations, from how to build birch bark and wood/canvass canoes and how to handle them properly, to carving paddles and blacksmithing as it relates to canoes.

Included in attendees will be Ken Kelly, president of the downstate Michigan chapter of the WCHA, who will give a demonstration on the traditional Canadian style of paddling. Boatbuilder Mike Hase of Wisconsin will be on hand, as well, bringing along a few of the guide canoes that he builds.

In addition, there will be a number of vendors on site offering canoes and related equipment for sale.

On Sunday, there will be organized canoe outings on various waters in the Marquette area that non-association members are invited to participate in.

All the events are open to the public and are free of charge. For more information on the assembly or the local chapter of the WCHA, call Judy or Craig Kitchen at 225-1769 or view the WCHA web site at www.wcha.org.

It looks like it’s going to be great weekend for everyone who has an interest in canoes – particular ones that are real works of art.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.