A new "water trail" stretching the length of the lower Columbia River gets a trial run as a Northwest trails advocate travels the entire 146-mile route by kayak.

Al LePage, director of the National Coast Trail Association, set off Saturday on his planned two-week trek that will bring him to Astoria.

The Lower Columbia River Water Trail is a project of a consortium of public and private groups to provide a safe, charted route from Bonneville Dam to the mouth of the Columbia for nonmotorized watercraft like canoes and kayaks.

"The lower Columbia River has been a water trail for hundreds - if not thousands - of years," LePage said. "The vision for a recreational water trail has been around a long time, and given the recent and exceptional growth of paddle sports and the upcoming bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, it's an idea whose time has truly arrived."

LePage will be joined along several stretches of the route by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird of Washington, Portland author Robin Cody, who chronicled his own canoe trek down the entire Columbia, and Rex Deer, director of Washington State Parks and Recreation.

"Developing this trail will draw tourism to our region," Baird said. "The trail passes through wildlife refuges, landing sites used by Lewis and Clark and old fishing grounds used by Native Americans. It provides a great opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Southwest Washington and take in some of the rich history of the Columbia River."

The water trail is aimed at providing people in nonmotorized boats a route to safely travel on the river for day or overnight explorations. The Lower Columbia Water Trail Committee, a group of project organizers, and has divided the trail into seven reaches of about 20 miles each and identified 61 public access sites.

LePage is scheduled to arrive at his destination Aug. 15, when he plans to pull up to the proposed canoe landing site at the new Netel Landing south of Fort Clatsop National Memorial on the Lewis and Clark River. He will give a presentation about the trail project at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Clatsop County Heritage Museum in Astoria.

The water trail project is the work of the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, which includes state and federal agencies, local governments, environmental groups, paddling organizations and businesses, historical associations, economic development councils, trail associations and interested citizens.

More information on LePage's trek is available at (www.coasttrails.org)