by Douglas Hunter

The 30,000 Islands of eastern Georgian Bay attract many recreational users, from boaters to anglers to campers to cottagers. But in recent years, it’s fallen mainly to the sea kayakers to keep the Crown land islands as pristine as possible for everyone who enjoys them.

Since 2006, the Georgian Bay arm of the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Association (GLSKA) has been running stewardship programs, aiming to reduce human impact on this popular eco-tourism area. “We benefit from having the best freshwater kayaking region in the world,” GLSKA president Keith Rodgers says, and his organization is determined to keep it that way.

GLSKA is not doing it all alone. The Parry Sound kayaking outfitter White Squall continues to be active in cleanup. As well, Carling Township funds a summer stewardship program for two students, focusing on Franklin Island and other local Crown land such as Huckleberry Island.

With carpentry help and financial assistance from local cottagers, these groups have placed about 30 “thunderboxes” – simple wood privies – at popular campsites along the bay’s island archipelago. “One of the most unattractive and unpleasant problems is the disposal of human waste,” says Rodgers. But dealing with it is essential to keeping the bay attractive for everyone who uses it.

GLSKA has been relying on volunteers and summer students, with funding from a variety of government and private sources, such as the Georgian Bay Land Trust and the Ministry of Natural Resources. A cash shortfall this year, however, has forced the organization to scale back the program. There was not enough money to hire summer-student stewards, so the kayakers are concentrating their funds on public education about “leave no trace” camping. GLSKA reprinted its “Stoop and Scoop” leaflet and distributed copies to outfitters and marinas where kayakers and others access the bay’s waters.

But the student stewards of years past are sorely missed. GLSKA dispatched its hirelings with kayaks and camping gear “to be the janitors of 1,000 square kilometres,” according to the 2008 stewardship program’s report. They provided on-the-spot public education, cleaned up trash and human waste, rebuilt stone fireplaces and hauled away tons of garbage, up to and including old lawn chairs, rotten meat, plastic bottles, empty gas cans and even refrigerators.

“We’re redoubling our efforts to keep sites we use clean,” says White Squall’s owner Tim Dyer, who in the past has provided training and other support for GLSKA’s stewards. The kayaking association, meanwhile, is planning a volunteer cleanup weekend in October based at Killbear Provincial Park. It’s a dirty job, but the sea kayakers are willing to do it.