Black River kayaker

A kayaker is shown in this photo kayaking along a portion of the Black River Water Heritage Trail, a 20-mile river trail that extends from Bangor to South Haven in Van Buren County.

South Haven received preliminary approval for a $230,000 state grant Monday for a proposed kayak/canoe launch station along the 20-mile water trail of the Black River between South Haven and Bangor.

The new launch station, which is expected to cost about $325,000, will complement two existing trailhead stations located at either end of the Bangor/South Haven Water Heritage Trail.

“The Black River is a tremendous recreational asset for our community,” said Ross Stein, president of the South Haven Area Recreational Authority, which applied for the grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. “This fully accessible launch and parking area will provide additional opportunities for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the beauty of the river.”

The recreational authority received word last month that the DNR had recommended the grant award. Their application will now be forwarded to the state legislature for final approval this spring.

The kayak/canoe launch would be located next to the Black River in the 69000 block of Phoenix Road, about 1.5 miles east of I-196 in Geneva Township.

The launch site will consist of a paved loop-shaped parking lot with nine parking spaces and a drop-off area, walkways, a kayak rack, a unisex toilet facility, trash and recycling bin, picnic table, signage and landscaping that will provide a buffer between the launch site and a nearby residence.

Black Rver kayak launch drawing

The rendering above shows the design for the proposed kayak launch on the Bangor/South Haven Heritage Water Trail. The launch would be on the south side of Phoenix Road, between 68th and 70th streets, in Geneva Township.

The South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau played a key role in helping the recreation authority secure the grant recommendation.

The visitors bureau, which is a member of the recreation authority, bought the land for the proposed kayak/canoe launch in 2019 and deeded it to the recreation authority in 2021. The bureau also plans to provide the $95,000 match toward the project.

The bureau is getting involved with the kayak launch project because it fits with its goal of increasing recreational opportunities in the South Haven area and Van Buren County, according to Jen Sistrunk, executive director of the bureau.

“Starting with our Pure Michigan Trail Town designation in 2019, the visitors bureau has made a significant commitment to develop and promote our land and water-based trail assets,” Sistrunk said. “Over the years, we’ve heard many visitors ask about a kayak launch drop-off location for a ‘downstream’ float opportunity, so we’re thrilled this project will become a reality.”

The Bureau is also helping to maintain portions of the water trail along with several other groups, according to Joelle Regovich of Abonmarche, which helped write the DNR grant application.

“SHARA (the Recreation Authority) will use its resources to maintain this park, including utilizing the South Haven Department of Public Works to provide mowing and upkeep,” Regovich said. “The Convention and Visitors Bureau has committed funds to support trail development that will include this water trail site. The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to perform water trail maintenance, including clearing a pathway on the Black River for canoers/kayakers.

If the state awards the grant for the launch site, it will give kayak and canoe enthusiasts the opportunity to complete a two- to three-hour downriver paddle, totaling 4.8 miles, toward South Haven

Once in the city, paddlers would exit the river at Black River Park, or paddle 1.15 miles further down the river toward the city’s harbor and and Lake Michigan.

The 20-mile stretch of the Black River between South Haven and Bangor is one of nine designated heritage water trails in Michigan.

Fifteen interpretive signs have been posted along the Bangor/South Haven Heritage Water Trail to give paddlers an idea of the role the river played in the development of towns in western Van Buren County.

Over the past 15 years, two sections of the water trail have been cleared for easy navigation. The first part consists of three miles of the river from Lions Park in Bangor to a small access site at County Road 687 in Geneva Township. The second section includes eight miles of the river that begins at a small access site on County Road 384 in Geneva Township, heading west to Black River Park in South Haven.

The ultimate goal for the Heritage Water Trail is clearance of the section of the river between County Roads 687 and 384 that is still very difficult to navigate due to obstacles, such as fallen trees and log jams.