by Danielle Forsyth
The Niagara River Greenway Commission is hosting its fifth annual Paddles Up Niagara this Saturday, July 24, from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"This event is a way to get people out on the Niagara River; to appreciate it for what it is instead of the preconceived notion of a raging torrent that goes over the falls," event coordinator Paul Leuchner explained.
Event participation has steadily increased every year and, weather permitting, Leuchner believes there will be about 250 boats out on the water. There is something for everyone at this year's event, he said.
The experienced paddle sportsman can enjoy two new competitions added this year. The first is the 7 a.m. early morning Kayak Poker Run where participants paddle station to station to collect a playing card. After completing the course, the person with the best five-card poker hand is declared the winner. The other competitive event new to this year's agenda is the kayak sprint competition at Little Beaver Island Lagoon from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Participants may find this course a bit more difficult than other sprints because of the added challenge of the vegetation in the lagoon, Leuchner says.
Other events include the non-competitive paddle from the Little Beaver Island launch site to the East River Marsh launch site and back, a 4.8-mile journey.
Another much-anticipated happening is a performance by Marc Ornstein, an American Canoe Association freestyle canoeing gold medalist. Freestyle canoeing emphasizes smooth, efficient flat-water paddling and precision boat control. He will be performing one of his acts choreographed to music.
Pledging to "Wear It" makes you eligible to win one of 50 life jackets the New York State Parks and the American Safe Boating Association is donating. "Safety is the most important thing we are stressing for Saturday's events," said Leuchner. Along with the life jacket giveaway, there will be rescue demonstrations performed by Jeff and Laura Liebel to emphasize the importance of water safety.
All of Saturday's events will be supervised by U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats, trained lifeguards, and the Grand Island Fire Co.