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North Dakota's first designated 'water trail' for kayakers, canoeists takes shape

The Sheyenne Water Trail will run through four North Dakota counties and through the scenic Fort Ransom State Park.

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A canoeist paddles along the Sheyenne river north of Valley City, North Dakota. Special to The Forum

FARGO — Winter may be on its way to North Dakota, but water recreation enthusiasts are already making plans for next summer and beyond.

A 180-mile water trail for kayakers and canoeists along the Sheyenne River is being developed through Griggs, Barnes, Ransom and Richland counties, extending from Baldhill Dam on Lake Ashtabula to the southern end of the Sheyenne National Grassland.

The $170,000 cost associated with the trail will come from Outdoor Heritage Fund matching grants, part of a $5.8 million allocation for 16 conservation and recreation projects across North Dakota approved by the state Industrial Commission in July.

The funding is generated from oil and gas production tax revenue in the state.

Scott Tichy, lead park ranger at Lake Ashtabula, said partners who developed the Sheyenne Valley National Scenic Byway are also working to expand this opportunity for kayak and canoe users on the Sheyenne River.

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A canoeist paddles along the Sheyenne River north of Valley City, North Dakota. Special to The Forum

When ready, they will ask the National Park Service to make it an official state water trail, a designation that does not yet exist in North Dakota.

“We’re hoping to be the first,” Tichy said.

Minnesota has a number of designated water trails, he said, including along the Red, Mississippi, St. Croix, Crow Wing and Big Fork rivers.

The key to developing a safe water trail is adequate landings along the river so people don’t get stuck while trying to get their kayaks and canoes in or out.

Ten new landings, including parking for vehicles and gravel ramps to the water, will be built, added to the existing 33 landing spots along that stretch of the Sheyenne.

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The Sheyenne Water Trail Project for kayakers and canoeists is under development through four North Dakota counties. Troy Becker / The Forum

Some existing landings will get new amenities such as improved parking and bike racks, Tichy said.

The landings, some premiere and some more primitive, will all have new signs reflecting the connected trail.

Within the next 18 months, the four counties, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will work on the project.

Tasks will include coming up with a management plan as to who is responsible for maintaining the trail and working with adjacent landowners on access issues.

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A member of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands seasonal trail crew approached the “Painter Bridge" on the Sheyenne River in Ransom County, near Leonard, ND. Special to The Forum

Avid kayaker Sarah Griesbach, of West Fargo, said the trail will create more opportunities for water-related adventures in North Dakota.

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“Once you try kayaking on a river, where it is more of an exploration as to what’s coming around each turn, you’ll be hooked,” she said.

She and her husband, Craig have completed the Missouri American Water MR340, a 340-mile paddling race in Missouri.

The new North Dakota trail would be great preparation for that race, she said.

“I’m pumped,” Griesbach said. “I hope people take advantage of it.”

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