A couple of weeks ago, I touched on the fact that kayaking is becoming a much more accessible and mainstream recreation activity. Local sports retailers all the way up to Walmart carry them, and they’re likely to go on sale soon, too.
After years of renting, I got my very own bright orange kayak this year, thanks to my fantastic mother-in-law’s sharp eye for discounts, and we’ve gone out on a few random voyages around the region.
I’ve found that a lot of people are initially intimidated by kayaking, but the experience is a lot like riding a bike, in my opinion. Sure, you could tip over in the water. You could fall off or crash your bike. Both things are possible, both things about as unlikely. Anyone can kayak, it’s just a matter of access.
This past Wednesday, I had an itch to get my kayak out and go explore the Newaukum and/or Chehalis River. After my husband got home, we loaded up the kayak to go look for a spot to drop it in the water. The plan was to drop me off and pick me up later whereever I ended up.
Aside from traveling north to Schaefer Park or south to Onalaska or Toledo, we weren’t really sure how to access the rivers locally for the purposes of a kayak. You basically need a flat bank or reasonable landing of some sort to launch from.
And, of course, it was our goal to not trespass on private property.
My husband grew up a bit in the Valley Meadows area of Jackson Highway. He said he remembered some river access to the Newaukum on North Fork Road. So, we headed south on Jackson Highway and ventured that way — no dice. We were met with fences and “NO TRESPASSING” signs where the swim spot used to be.
Then we took a chance on Taylor Road and Taylor Road South. Just before the end of the county road, there’s a small gravel landing, but we stopped short of the posted no trespassing signs. At the very end of the county road there, it was a brushy mess. No good.
We considered checking at Stan Hedwall Park, but last time we drove through there, what used to be parking near the river had been barricaded off with concrete blocks. It didn’t say that there wasn’t river access, but it certainly wasn’t friendly to much anything else.
We drove around a bit more, but couldn’t come up with any other great ideas, and were rapidly losing daylight by this point in the evening, so we headed back home toward Chehalis.
After I got home, I posed the question to my friends on Facebook: “How in the heck do you get a kayak in the river around here?”
Someone suggested Fort Borst Park to Prather Road. Another suggested Schafer Park to Fort Borst Park. Other than that, most suggestions involved either Mayfield Lake or other larger bodies of water not immediately local. Public choices were pretty bleak.
Several of my friends invited me to their homes and property to launch, which is great for me, personally — but it doesn’t really help the average person that lives in the Centralia-Chehalis area.
Fellow columnist Brian Mittge chimed in on my post, noting that the new public space near the old Midway Meats location could make a great local kayak launching spot, potentially.
The whole experience and conversation got me thinking about whether or not this is an avenue that cities and counties who are interested in supporting and attracting recreation tourism should be watching and evaluating. For instance, the “Ride the Willapa” event brought out more than 500 riders to the west Lewis County area this past June … could kayaking also encourage people to get out to Doty, Dryad, and Pe Ell?
It sure looks like Toledo is having a great time embracing kayak outfitters and Cowlitz River tours. How can a girl kayak to Pe Ell and get some Evey’s eats afterwards? That’s the experience I’m looking for.
To be fair, I don’t know the Newakum or Chehalis River well enough to know what is reasonable. But from what I can see right now, access is really limited locally.
I’m curious in reader experiences — where do you find public access for kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding purposes locally?
And, are there simple infrastructure elements that could be added in public places to encourage access? I mean, we have boat launches around the county … why not kayak launches? Tugboat Annie’s has one on the side of a dock in the West Bay of Budd Inlet. A much smaller footprint, fewer resources required to build, and would potentially encourage more people to engage in local recreation and our smaller waterways versus those who own fishing boats alone.
Until then, I’ll probably run you into somewhere on the river between Centralia and Rochester or Onalaska and Napavine.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at email@example.com.