Compiled by Al Anderson (1997)
Last month I made an ambitious pledge to compile a history of WMCKA. After sitting and mulling it over for at least the length of a good cigar I realized that over a decade has gone by without a lot of official documentation. Being a horrendous pack rat, I have about half a file drawer full of old newsletters, fliers, legal documents and clippings that allowed me to piece together a rough chronology of the club's beginnings.
Before the days of WMCKA, Michigan's only sea kayaking club was the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Club, based around Great River Outfitters in the Detroit area. The Lansing Oar and Paddle Club counted sea kayakers amongst its members, but really had no dedicated arm supporting them exclusively. There were no group activities based in western Michigan at all.
In the summer of 1987 I hosted the first Frankfort paddling weekend, announcing it in the Great Lakes Club newsletter. About 8-10 paddlers showed up, and we put them up at nearby Betsie River Campsite. The weather was wet and dismal, even violent at times, but everybody seemed to have a pretty good time. We resolved to try it again the following year, opening our yard at our home in the 'Dismal Swamp' to anyone brave enough to challenge the hoards of mosquitos. That event grew into what is now known as the Twinkie Conflagration here at Phil and Kathy Smith's property. In those days, paddler John Landreville always brought a gross of Twinkies to share as dessert at our little events. In discussing the limitless shelf life and dubious nutritional qualities of the famous confection, somebody got the idea of placing one in the campfire to observe its reduction (if any !) by high temperature oxidation (We were very scientific in those days.) Without going into a lot of technical discourse, I'll just say that the Twinkie was pretty much unscathed in the fire and the whole phenomenon was most easily explained in metaphysical terms. It was such a moving experience for those in attendance that it has been continued to this day.
In the '80s, the Great Lakes Club had a major event called the Gales of November Rendezvous, held each Halloween weekend at Lake Superior Provincial Park about an hour north of Sault St. Marie, Ontario. The weather had a tendency to be severe, and it was a long way to drive if you weren't willing to paddle in 6-8 foot pounding surf. Just showing up to camp in the frigid conditions earned one the distinction of being a truly macho paddler type. Jim Parker and I had fortuitously bumped into Rob Paull and Bob Kubick at Ludington State Park one beautiful October weekend - all there to paddle in relaxed conditions. Motor homes and sophisticated camping machines had not become the rule then, and we had the park virtually to ourselves. Even the showers and flush toilets were closed for the winter - water came from a hose at the ranger's cabin and they had a couple pit toilets. We paddled together and decided then and there that a fall paddling weekend should happen at LSP and the 'Breezes of October', a kindlier version of the Canadian event, was born. It is now the weekend for the club's annual meeting and elections.
About the same time, Tom Huntoon was compiling a mailing list of customers from his newly founded Lumbertown Canoe and Kayak Specialties in Muskegon. Soon, I found myself editing a newsletter to keep the group together, as well as acting as president, secretary and treasurer of what was rapidly turning into a real club. By June of 1990, the first WMCKA symposium was being held at Muskegon State Park. The event grew and was moved to Camp Miniwanka near Stony Lake for a couple years, then to Camp Pendalouan on Big Blue Lake.
Soon after, the spring 'Icebreaker' paddling weekend was renamed the 'Chili Confluence' after a successful pouring together of dozens of individual batches of (mostly) homemade chili. This seemed like a good way to get everyone together for a meal and maybe a meeting, another great idea that has carried foreward to the present.
Phil Connell (Phireman Phil to the oldtimers) organized the 'End-o-Summer' Platte River Campground paddling weekend, held each September. This event is geared toward the more "civilized" campers in our membership (a growing contingent, judging by the number of non-tent campers attending recent events). Platte River campground is the most comfortably appointed facility of all the club's campouts.
In 1988, the Michigan legislature surreptitiously passed a law requiring all canoes, kayaks and rowing shells over 12' in length to be registered as 'vessels'. This law required all canoes and kayaks to pay an annual registration fee, display 3" high registration numbers on the sides, required the paddler to carry registration papers at all times and submit to search and inspection by authorities at any time. Several WMCKA members, notably John Landreville, Marcia Howe and Jim Parker took on the daunting task of lobbying in Lansing to have this measure overturned. The Lansing Oar and Paddle Club and WMCKA held a rally in Lansing the included carrying kayaks and canoes up the capitol steps in front of TV cameras. Some paddlesports organizations, most painfully prominent, the ACA, did not come out in support of our efforts to repeal this law until well after our goal had been acomplished in June of 1989. This grass-roots effort by Michigan paddlers resulted in a unanimous vote in the Michigan House of Representatives to repeal canoe and kayak registration, and reinforced my belief in the value of our club. If you are new to paddlesport and agree that you have the same right to use the water without paying a fee as a swimmer, windsurfer or kid on an air mattress, you have your club to thank for your freedom.
By 1995, WMCKA and its activities had grown to the point where incorporation was the next logical step. This greatly reduced the potential liability of all club members in an increasingly litigious society. At that time Karl Geisel took the reigns as president, Barb Grob served as secretary and Don Koperski took the treasurer's job. Ken Bauer, who had already taken over the newsletter publishing job from yours truly, became the club's first elected newsletter editor. Tom Huntoon, John VanWyk and I filled the seats of the first Directors-at-Large.
The continued existence of WMCKA is the product of the efforts of a lot of people, most of them not mentioned here. Virtually every member, past and present, has contributed in some way. Symposia, pool sessions, instruction, safety, friendship, protection of our natural resources and our right to enjoy them are all contributions WMCKA has made. I hope that in another ten or twelve years, I'll be sitting down to write of another decade of WMCKA's success.