As early March snow swirled around the Michigan State University campus, some 2,700 people arrived at the university for the 21st annual Quiet Water Symposium this year.
While snowdrifts accumulated outside, conference-goers mapped out their summer paddling routes, learned camping tips from author and canoeist Cliff Jacobson, and discovered the best paddling routes in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park from Canoeroots columnist Kevin Callan. Attendees listened to inspirational trip reports and epic adventures, perused through handmade cedar-strip wooden canoes and kayaks on display, learned about watercraft restoration techniques and found a wealth of information on local conservation efforts and causes.
Allen Deming of Mackinaw Watercraft demonstrates his technique for building cedar strip wooden kayaks at the Quiet Water Symposium in March.
The Quiet Water Symposium is the biggest one-day outdoor recreation show of its kind in North America, said Russ Hicks, president of the nonprofit Quiet Water Society, which puts on the event.
“I would say it’s one of the best shows they have in North America,” Callan said. At the Quiet Water Symposium, he said he can always find diverse crowd of all ages, including young people and families, and attendees who come to learn and are serious about perfecting their craft.
Jacobson said outdoor shows like the Quiet Water Symposium are a great way for paddlers to trade ideas, learn new things and expand their horizons.
“This show is put on by people who know and love canoeing, for people who know and love canoeing,” Jacobson said. There’s always more to learn, he said, because “nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”
Hicks said the focus on education and conservation sets the Quiet Water Symposium apart from other outdoor recreation shows.
“It’s not just (about) paddling and fishing,” Hicks said. “It’s conserving a resource, and taking care of that resource.” That resource is the Great Lakes watershed, he said, and along with it, the responsibility to protect the world’s largest supply of fresh water.
Around 2,700 people attended the 21st annual Quiet Water Symposium this year at the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Quiet Water Symposium originally began in the 1980s in Battle Creek, Michigan, Hicks said. In 1995, the owners of a local outdoor sporting goods store decided to bring the show to the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.
During its first year at MSU, Hicks said the symposium hosted a total of 75 people, including presenters, volunteers and attendees. In 21 years, the show has grown to 235 exhibitors and an estimated 2,700 attendees, with a team of 50 to 60 volunteers making sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes.
With the proceeds from the annual event, the Quiet Water Society gives away thousands of dollars each year to local conservation efforts. Last year the society gave away $9,000 to six projects that support the society’s mission “to promote non-invasive outdoor activities in the Great Lakes basin,” Hicks said.
In addition to grants, the society also gives away the annual Verlen Kruger award, in memory of the man who paddled over 100,000 miles across two continents in his lifetime, and who, as a resident of the area, supported the Quiet Water Symposium from its earliest days.
This year’s recipients were Tiffany and Patrick Van DeHey, for their work with the Port Austin Kayak Symposium held on the shores of Lake Huron each June, as well as their support of the new Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit and the Detroit Heritage River Trail.
Amy Lukas, left, and Mary Catterlin in front of their homemade dugout canoe with an attached sail, in which they paddled and sailed 1200 miles around Lake Michigan in 93 days.
For the show’s thousands of attendees, the first weekend in March is the perfect time to plan, to dream, and to prepare for adventures ahead.
Candy Petrick, who traveled to the Quiet Water Symposium from Rochester, Michigan, to get inspiration from her favorite outdoor presenters and authors, said now is the time she starts planning for her annual weeklong backcountry trip with her family.
“I can’t wait until we get out every year and you hear that loon yodel out over the lake,” she said. “And the only other sound you hear is your paddle dipping into the water.”
The Quiet Water Symposium is held on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan, each year on the first Saturday of March. For more information, visit quietwatersymposium.org.