The Clear Bottom Kayaking Experience

On any given summer’s day in Door County, someone is enjoying a silent sport, and with endless miles of shoreline, inland lakes and rivers, Door County is a fitting home for kayakers. Even without searching for them, kayaks are everywhere – stores, brochures, beachfronts, atop cars, leaning against garages, etc.

There is only one place in the county, however, to get clear bottom kayaks – Lakeshore Adventures, Inc. in Baileys Harbor. Todd Haleen, who also owns First Choice Charters, set up shop in 2012 and thought clear bottom kayaks were something unique to bring to the area.Len Villano

Haleen says the idea came about because he “always wanted a glass bottom tour boat – a large boat for salmon fishing and scuba diving.” He further explains, “With water levels receding, the [shrinking] depths of the marinas and the overall cost, it wasn’t cost-effective at this point [to have a clear bottom boat]. Kayaks are relatively inexpensive and don’t need a lot of water. For our first year, it was really, really good.”

Clear bottom kayaks haven’t swept across the county, yet, probably from a misconception that our water isn’t crystal clear. Haleen is quick to counter this misconception:  “Because you’re pushing the kayak down in the water, it becomes clearer, it’s a much better view. The polycarbonate bottom magnifies [the view], to some extent.”

There is also more incentive to use clear bottom kayaks on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. According to Haleen, “the water is actually pretty clear on [the Lake Michigan side], there isn’t a large algae bloom because we have colder water for most of the year …that’s why it’s good on this side.”

Lakeshore Adventures offers three clear bottom kayak tours:  shipwreck, Cave Point and a Kangaroo Lake eco tour. With all the tours, knowledgeable guides narrate what kayakers see beneath their seats.

Joe and Patty Barrick, from the Wausau area, met Haleen through his charter fishing business and led the tours in July and August of last year. Their experience includes paddling 2,600 miles on Lakes Michigan and Superior. In 2007, the Barricks even circumnavigated Lake Superior on kayaks; they went about 700 miles in two days. The Barricks will not lead tours this year (instead, the busy pair will bike across the country), but they were on hand to train the next crop of guides in May.

Len VillanoHaleen and the Barricks agree the shipwreck tour is the most popular, most likely because it allows kayakers to see what is often inaccessible to the eye. The shipwreck tour leaves from Anclam Park and follows the Baileys Harbor shoreline to the outer reef (near the old Baileys Harbor “Bird Cage” lighthouse).

The Emeline and Christina Nilsson shipwrecks are featured, but 14 wrecks can be seen in relatively shallow (less than 15 feet) water.

Joe says the maritime history was a real draw for these tours. “The kayakers were fascinated with the stories behind the wrecks, like the details of what the ships were carrying, and where they were coming and going.”

[To learn more about these shipwrecks read “The Shipwrecks of Baileys Harbor” by Patty Williamson in Door County Living volume 10, issue 4.]

The Cave Point tour leaves from Schauer Park; kayakers paddle along the Lake Michigan shoreline and get up close to the caves. Kayakers can go into the caves and see the rock formations underneath them. This is a unique opportunity for all who are in awe of Cave Point on land – viewing them on the water only magnifies their awesomeness.

Depending on how the tour is going (determined by the weather and stamina of the group), the guides may take kayakers to see the site of the Australasia wreck.Len Villano

New for this year, Lakeshore Adventures partnered with The Ridges Sanctuary for eco tours on Kangaroo Lake in Baileys Harbor. This tour allows kayakers to glimpse a variety of wildlife, and learn about the conservation efforts in the watershed.

While explaining the collaboration, Haleen said, “I need a spot when the weather’s bad. It’s just one tour, but we may do it more when we can’t go out on the lake.”

Marne Kaeske, stewardship coordinator at The Ridges, will lead these tours. She explains, “Kangaroo Lake is ecologically significant because of its wildlife habitats and water quality.” There’s an incredible array of species in and around Kangaroo Lake; Kaeske even mentions a resident Bald Eagle. The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly is another protected species spotted around Kangaroo Lake. This dragonfly is federally endangered, and its largest populations are found in Door County.

The Kangaroo Lake tour is the most mild-mannered since this lake is more sheltered from the elements than the harbor, but Haleen is emphatic about the safety of all the tours.

“This side, ‘the quiet side,’ doesn’t have a whole lot going on, as far as water recreation goes, compared to the bay side. It’s a more quiet area with not a lot of boat traffic – meaning a safer environment.”

Lakeshore Adventure’s clear bottom kayak tours are safe, informative and perfect for novices, experts, families, couples and individuals. Haleen succinctly sums up the tours, “It’s the whole paddling experience, but with a little extra.”

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