BIG RAPIDS — Members of the Big Rapids area community are grabbing their kayaks, paddles and canoes to join in on a weekend-long journey down the Muskegon River.

Beginning on Friday, Aug. 3, the Big Rapids Jaycees will be participating in a trip from Evart to Newaygo with people having the opportunity to travel about 74.5 miles on the river.

The trip will begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, with participants leaving from Riverside Park West in Evart and ending at Northend Park in Big Rapids. This first leg of the trip is approximately 28 miles long and will take roughly nine hours to complete.

Participants will not be camping overnight on Friday.

The trip will continue at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, beginning at Northend Park and ending in Brower Park in Stanwood. After this approximately 20.5-mile leg, participants will camp overnight in the park.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5, the voyage will continue from Brower Park for another 12 miles to Croton Dam in Croton Township, where they will stay the night.

The final portion of the trip will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, and will take participants from Croton Dam to Newaygo for the final 14 miles.

Jayna Wekenman, of the Big Rapids Jaycees, said this event is open to members of the public, but anyone who wishes to be involved participates at their own risk and are responsible for their own boats, transportation, food, camping and safety gear and must wear a life jacket. Minors also are required to have an adult with them.

She added participants are not required to complete the entire trip, but are welcome to join for any portion.

"(The trip) could be a good opportunity for people who haven't done the river because they are new to the area or haven't had anyone to go with," she said.

Wekenman explained the Muskegon River Voyage was developed as part of the larger Big Rapids Area River Safety (BRARS) project, a committee within the Big Rapids Jaycees which is open to non-members of the Jaycees to join.

She said the three main objectives of BRARS are awareness, prevention and response.

"What we're trying to do is create awareness of river hazards," she explained.

Wekenman said the second objective, prevention, is about preventing accidents by encouraging people to learn how to swim and to always wear a life jacket.

Response, the third objective, focuses on effective and efficient methods of responding to emergencies, she said, including the "throw, don't go" campaign, which teaches people to throw something into the water to help someone struggling rather than jumping in after them.

In addition to the three objectives of the BRARS project, Wekenman said members of the committee for the project hope to eventually have some type of signage or mile markers along the Muskegon River to notify people of points of entry or how far away they are from the next town.

According to Wekenman, BRARS — which is funded in part by TransCanada Corporation and Ice Mountain, specifically for the Muskegon River Voyage — is a revamp of the Muskegon River Water Safety Project.

Similar to BRARS, the Muskegon River Water Safety Project, which was started by Gary and Char Fitch in 2006, promotes water safety awareness on the Great Lakes, rivers and inland lakes.

Along with the river voyage, the Big Rapids Jaycees and BRARS also give out life jackets during the annual Mecosta County Community and Family Expo. Wekenman said over the past two years they have handed out about 250 life jackets.

"One of our biggest goals is not to create fear of going into the river, but wanting to support people going into the river and doing it safely," she said.