By Howard Meyerson
Most of the major winter outdoor shows highlight boating, hunting and fishing, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Michigan, after all, boasts nearly a million registered boats and roughly 1.6 million anglers and hunters.
State officials estimate Michigan residents own about 300,000 unregistered canoes and kayaks, but when it comes to Michigan paddlesport shows, there is only one – The Quiet Water Symposium. That delightful event is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Worth the trip
If you haven’t heard of it, be sure to check it out. It’s scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., March 7, at the Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education, 4301 Farm Lane, in East Lansing on the Michigan State University campus. Its organizers expect its largest crowd yet.
“We had 2,500 in attendance last year and expect from 2,500 to 3,000 this year,” said Allen Deming, a former symposium chairman and one of the many dedicated volunteers that put it on. The symposium is now sponsored by the Quiet Water Society, a small non-profit with no paid staff that formed to shepherd the event forward and through tough times.
“People can see 30 canoe and kayak models from commercial vendors, and we’ll have about 10 home builders displaying their work,” Deming said. “About 60 percent of the show is dedicated to non-profit organizations like watershed councils and nature centers and water trail organizations.
“We have people who drive up from Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ontario.”
That’s a far cry from the symposium’s earliest days when it was held at the Kellogg Center on MSU’s campus. I remember those early events. They were considerably smaller, but no less genuine. The organizers wanted to show off great canoes and kayaks, the works of boat builders, and the great trips paddlers were taking. Today, the symposium celebrates all of that and non-motorized recreation, the value of clean waterways, and shared concern for the Great Lakes.
“Seventy five tickets were sold for that first event. It wasn’t very big,” Deming said. “But two years later that grew to 150. Then, it was decided the show should move to the Ag pavilion. We hit a high of 1,200 people in 2006 or 2007, and then we had a bad year due to weather and attendance dropped to 300 people.
“We had someone say ‘it has run its course. It’s time to shut it down.’ I was new to the organization at that point, and said ‘Excuse me. I see this getting to 5,000 people.’ We’ve had steady growth ever since.”
The Quiet Water Symposium fills an important void in the Michigan outdoor show lineup for the season. It has attractions for canoe and kayak shoppers, aspiring builders, and experienced and beginning paddle trippers.
Its seminar schedule includes more than two dozen talks by folks who cover the gamut of paddling and outdoor topics. This year some will share travelogues about wild places like the Bloodvein River in Canada and the rugged Lake Superior coastline at Pukaskwa National Park. There are two presentations about paddling the Mississippi River – one successful – one not – along with other destinations.
Big name presenters
Gary and Linda DeKock, of Grand Rapids, will discuss their 70-day journey down the Mississippi River in a two-person kayak. MSU alumni, Tim Muhich, will discuss his four-person team’s 2014 attempt to break the world speed record for paddling the river.
Other talks focus on outdoor skills like wilderness first-aid, meal preparation and food packing for trips, and backcountry photography and video, to name a few. Nationally renowned author and paddling guide, Cliff Jacobson, will present two talks in the auditorium – one on “Wild Rivers,” the other on “How to Stormproof a Campsite.” Kevin Callan, another nationally-revered paddling figure, from Peterborough Ontario, will take his audience on a family-friendly paddle trip around Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario.
Try your luck
Something new this year, according to Deming, is a grand prize raffle. A new 14.6-foot solo canoe worth $2,000, a Northstar Phoenix, will be given away. The canoe was designed and built by Ted Bell’s new company. Bell is a former canoe racing champion, known for his performance-designs. He sold Bell Canoe Works, in 2006, but returned to the business in 2014 with Northstar, and is once again producing canoes in Minnesota.
The Quiet Water Symposium is Michigan’s best show for paddlers. It is also the only one. If you enjoy paddling, be sure not to miss it.
IF YOU GO
Quiet Water Symposium
• What: 20th annual event where those who love nonmotorized outdoor recreation and see a variety of informational programs and exhibitions.
• When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 7
• Where: The Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education, Michigan State University
• Address: 4301 Farm Lane, East Lansing
• Admission: $10 adults, $5 students (with ID), 12 and younger free
• Presentation schedule and exhibitors list: quietwatersymposium.org
Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.