ITV: Claudia van Wijk on Opening a Free Access Take-out on the Ottawa river
Ottawa River landowners recently reached an agreement to guarantee free access for paddlers on the Rocher Fondu section of the Ottawa River. Navigating the logistics of private land ownership on the Ottawa has been a long battle for local and visiting paddlers alike. We asked Claudia van Wijk of the Madawaska Kanu Center and OWL Rafting for her view on what has happened…
KS: Claudia, we heard about a recent agreement reached by landowners regarding free access to the Ottawa River, which has been an ongoing issue. In some countries, access to any riverbank is a right. What are the laws up in Canada?
CvW: Canadian laws have many interpretations. I am confident that riverside landowners cannot stop a person from stopping along the shore, particularly if there is a portage around a rapid or waterfall. However, crossing private land to get to the river is considered trespassing, and you would need landowner permission to do so. The local township of Whitewater Region does provide public, non-commercial access at various boat launches. Typically, they provide access to lakes for fishing boats or other pleasure crafts.
« We are pleased to share that an agreement has been signed that provides free access to recreational paddlers for the next ten years ».
KS: Forgive us for misunderstanding, but many believed there was already free access to the Ottawa? Is this true? Why or why not?
CvW: On the whitewater reach of the Ottawa River, these exist, but are many kilometers upstream and downstream of the rapids. Free access at the two whitewater put-ins has been in place since early Ottawa River paddling days. Started by my parents and continued by us, OWL Rafting and Madawaska Kanu Centre, we are committed to providing free access for recreational paddlers. The two ideal take-outs were owned by River Run and Wilderness Tours. Wilderness Tours recently acquired River Run, and taking out at the end of the rapids has been challenging. After a year of discussions, we are pleased to announce that take-out privileges are now free for recreational paddlers.
KS: Joe Kowalski, the owner of Wilderness Tours, initially argued that he shouldn’t be solely responsible for maintaining a private road when it is used by hundreds of kayakers annually, which makes sense. Why, according to you, is it so important to organize easy access to the river for paddlers at no cost?
CvW: Joe is correct in stating that the river access points are expensive to own and maintain. Our philosophy is that our paid rafting guests can cover those costs. We, too, are paddlers who have enjoyed access to rivers across private property all over the world. Providing not only access but parking and bathrooms just feels right.
Whitewater Ontario, our local paddling association, has pitched in on paddlers’ behalf to cover some of the upkeep costs. And we are working with the local municipality to cover future road maintenance, as they see the significant impact whitewater tourism has on the region.
« The recently signed agreement results partly from pressure from the paddling community and Whitewater Ontario to provide free access ».
KS: What is the new agreement about, and how did it happen? What made the parties involved change their position?
CvW: The recently signed agreement results partly from pressure from the paddling community and Whitewater Ontario to provide free access. The local municipality of Whitewater Region has agreed to assist with their mandate. The reality is OWL and Madawaska already provide access at the “Main put-in” and part way down the Main Channel at Black Chute (the Lorne) where “Garburator” and “Bussy” are. There were discussions of building a new road to provide access to the take-out. The costs would have been both financially and environmentally, so discussions to use the existing Wilderness Tours roads began. We are pleased to share that an agreement has been signed that provides free access to recreational paddlers for the next ten years.
KS: On a personal note… You and your family have run the Madawaska Kanu Centre and OWL Rafting for decades. We hear rumors you could be selling the rafting operation on the Ottawa. Why leave paradise?
CvW: Yes, it is time. Our lifetime project of building a whitewater rafting company that has put smiles on the faces of hundreds of thousands of customers is ready for new stewards to continue the journey. We hope to find like-minded folks who want to continue this unique rafting operation that has provided us with an incredible family lifestyle in “paradise.” The pandemic has reinforced in all of us that our personal health and fascination with experiencing the outdoors should be our focus. OWL Rafting is feeling the positive effects of this change. Our daughters, Stefani (30) and Katrina (32), will assume responsibility for Madawaska Kanu Centre, which is at the heart of our three-generation family business. Both are renowned whitewater paddlers eager to build on the solid foundation laid by Madawaska’s 50+ years of introducing students to the thrills and joys of whitewater paddling. We couldn’t be happier!
Thanks Claudia and best wishes to you all.