HOT SPRINGS – Join the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's watchable wildlife program as it opens its first virtual water trail on the north shore of Lake Ouachita, beginning at 10 a.m., Sept. 8. Anyone with a kayak or canoe is welcome to join in the inaugural float of the Rabbit Tail Water Trail, and there will be a limited number of kayaks available for people who don't have a paddling craft handy.
The kayaks are being provided by Ouachita Kayak Tours, the AGFC's partner in the newly designated trail on the secluded stretch of lake near Avant. Lisa Logan, owner of the outfitting service, says she approached AGFC about the water trail from all the calls she's received from people wanting to know a quiet place to paddle on the lake.
"I've become a bit of an information center lately," Logan said. "The marinas can be busy and have a lot of open water, but most kayakers are looking for something a little more remote. After paddling around the north side of the lake a bit, I think the Rabbit Tail area really lets people see a whole other personality to the lake."
Logan used her experience on the lake to paddle and lay out the original route. She also will be able to help monitor and maintain the access sign to the trail.
Kirsten Bartlow, watchable wildlife program coordinator for the AGFC, says Logan's involvement in the Rabbit Tail Water Trail has been more than welcome. Not only has she been able to help with development of the trail, but she offers a source for people to rent kayaks from if they don't own any.
"We don't have many outfitters near most of our water trails," Bartlow said. "So this gives people who don't own kayaks an opportunity to try them out at the same time they experience the new trail."
Unlike other water trails, which have physical landmarks or markers available to guide users, a virtual trail is downloaded to a paddler's smartphone and uses the GPS system in the device.
"We've been looking into doing virtual trails for a while," Bartlow said. "There are a lot of really interesting places to have a float or a hike, but the area may be too rugged or the owners of the property may not allow permanent markers to be placed onsite. Lake Ouachita was the perfect place to try a virtual trail, because there isn't any place to put trail markers out like we've done on our other trails."
Bartlow says the access at Rabbit Tail Recreation Area has a large sign like those traditionally placed at access points for Arkansas Water Trails, but it includes a link people can look up on their smartphone to download the proper software to experience the virtual trail.
"There are a few mobile apps that are using geo-referenced maps like this, but we chose Avenza, a free app that is available on both Apple and Android phones," Bartlow said. "You have to download that app first, then upload the map of the water trail from our website."
Www.agfc.com/watertrails hosts all of the water trails the AGFC has created, but the link to Rabbit Tail is the only virtual trail currently available. Once users select and download the geo-referenced map, they can open it in their Avenza Maps app with our without a cellular phone signal. The app will reference their location as a blue dot on the map using the phone's GPS system.
Rabbit Tail Water Trail is 8.5 miles long, which may seem long for some users, but Bartlow says it can be customized to fit an individual's needs.
"It's an open lake instead of a stream, so users can shorten it as they paddle along using the map on their phone," Bartlow said. "But don't let it fool you, much of the shoreline of Lake Ouachita is similar, so it's easy to get turned around. Some fantastic islands along the route also are open for camping, so someone can plan a multiple day trip and an overnight campout during their float."
Kayaks will be available to rent from Ouachita Kayak Tours on an appointment basis, so interested paddlers should call ahead to reserve their boats. To reserve a boat, visit www.ouachitakayaktours.com or call 501-725-2925.