by Tiffany Hyman
The Niagara River Greenway Commission is hosting its sixth annual Paddles Up Niagara event on Saturday, July 30, starting at 7 a.m. at Beaver Island State Park. The park will hold the festivities in conjunction with the Town of Grand Island, Anchor Marine and WeKanu Paddling Instruction & Instructor Certification.
The main activity for the event is the noncompetitive, 4.8-mile journey from the Little Beaver Launch site around to the East River marsh site returning back to Little Beaver.
"It's a great way to spend the day on the water," said Rob Belue, executive director of the Niagara River Greenway Commission. "Canoeing (and kayaking) is one of the fastest growing sports in the country."
"Paddles up" is a Native American customs phrase, describing how they greet one another in the native culture. "The phrase means 'we come in peace,' " said Belue.
In other cultures, the phrase signifies the start of a long journey.
On the island, the poker run marks the beginning of a day filled with exciting activities. The run starts at 7 a.m. at East River marsh near Strawberry Island. Belue explained the run is like "playing a deck of cards." There will be five locations where participants will pick up cards. The contestant that has the best hand (of cards) wins. Awards will be given to first, second and third place winners.
The Paddle Fair follows the run at 8:30 a.m. Paddlesports retailers and company representatives will be available, providing guests the opportunity to try their hand in canoes and kayaks from 8 a.m. to noon. Among the many knowledgeable retailers and representatives expected are Anchor Marine, Eastern Mountain Sports, the Marine Division of New York State, WeKanu and Boy Scouts of America. Beginners and enthusiasts both are encouraged to listen to the retailers who will offer tips on paddlesport safety and the natural, recreational and cultural attributes of the Niagara River region. The trade show allows vendors to display their products and answer consumer questions.
A major sponsor of the event is John Howlett, general manager of Anchor Marines and Greater Lakes E-Z Dock. Howlett and his company work on installing E-Z launch lifts for easier access to getting in a canoe. The company is the No. 1 originator of the only professional kayak launch in the country.
"Safety for kayakers is a big concern," said Howlett. "It's the fastest growing segment around."
Howlett is thrilled to once again support Paddles Up Niagara.
"(My company) is one of the primary supporters," he said. "We get more and more involved every year."
Jeff and Laura Liebel will present a demonstration on freestyle and rescue in Little Beaver Island. The demonstration will show how to properly paddle and operate a kayak.
A light lunch will be served after the program, sponsored by the Grand Island Historical Society. Roast beef, chicken, a side salad and beverages will be served including lemonade, soda and coffee.
The first 100 paddle boaters will receive the signature Paddles Up Niagara 2011 T-shirt. Participants for the paddle will be required to register and complete necessary waiver forms. Paddlers must wear a mandatory personal floatation device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. All canoes and kayaks will be checked before traveling.
"Water safety is very important," said Belue. "The more that people have knowledge about water safety, the better it is."
The event is free, including registration for the paddle. Register now through Friday, July 29. A prepaid donation of $11 is requested for the lunch fundraiser and tour of the historic River Lea site. The normal State Parks entrance free also applies.
"It's just a great community to be with," said Belue. "Paddles Up is our signature event on the Island."
Beaver Island State Park is located at 2136 West Oakfield Road in Grand Island. After arrival, participants should take the first right toward the sledding hill or Little Beaver.
For more information, visit www.niagaragreenway.org/ or call 773-5361.