By Alice Gerard
Exploring the water safely was a main theme at "Paddles Up," which was held July 25 at Beaver Island State Park.
This year marked the 10th year of "Paddles Up," a noncompetitive paddling event that is held on the last Saturday of July.
According to Ro Woodard, education specialist for the Marine Services Bureau of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, "I do boating education and outreach. I am here doing lifejacket education. I'm encouraging people to wear life jackets and to have a whistle on the life jacket."
"The life jacket will save your life. You need to wear it, especially if you're a paddler on a small boat. It is hard to put on a life jacket if you're in the water. Falling out of the boat happens suddenly, and you can't prepare for that. You want the security of being able to pop up (from the water), get your boat and your gear, get picked up by someone else, and not have to swim," Woodard said.
Woodard said New York state has adopted federal regulations that require boaters to wear a life jacket and to carry a whistle. The whistle, she said, is only to be used when the boat is in distress. In addition, "if you're out at night, you're required to have a light to light up when something is coming near you."
Boaters at night are also encouraged to stay near the shore and tell someone where they are going, Woodard said.
The use of life preservers is also being encouraged by the ninth Coast Guard district of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Flotilla Commander Steve Birtz said, "We are trying to promote vessel safety and the wearing of life preservers. As an auxiliary, we teach vessel safety classes. They are required for anyone turning 18 and operating vessels with motors."
The classes are offered four to five times a year, Birtz said. In May, the classes are offered at the Buffalo Launch Club. Late in April, these classes are presented at the East River Fishing Club, 355 East River Road.
Chris Murawski of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper provided information at a table set up at "Paddles Up" "We're here to promote our Riverkeeper kayak tours. It is part of our outreach program to connect people to the water," he said.
Later, Murawski was in a kayak, demonstrating how to handle the watercraft should it flip over. Laura, an instructor-trainer with Wekanu, said, "People get disoriented when they flip upside down."
According to Woodard, "People should know how to do rescues. No one expects to be out of the boat. It (knowing how to do a rescue) makes the difference between calling the sheriff and being rescued or taking care of it yourself and having a good time."
For people who would like to learn how to paddle a kayak, classes are available on Saturdays and Thursdays at Beaver Island State Park.
According to Tina Spencer, a park naturalist for New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Development and a certified kayak instructor, the classes are free of charge. Kayaks, Spencer said, are "not as tippy as canoes."
"This is the best kept secret that nobody knows about," Spencer said.
Town Supervisor Mary Cooke said that there are many places to see in a kayak. "We would love for you to use the water and explore our town," she said.
Lunch was offered by the Grand Island Historical Society, for $14, to the boaters after they finished the noncompetitive paddle. The meal was served outside of River Lea with food was provided by Mike Carr of the Village Inn. According to Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society, "The historical society benefits by the exposure that we get by collaborating with state parks and the Niagara River Greenway Commission, and the boaters benefit by getting lunch and a tour of the museum. Our mission is to educate people about the Island, Beaver Island, Lewis F. Allen, and the history of the property (River Lea)."
Nestark said that, in 2006, Paul Leuchner -- who was then the chair of "Paddles Up" -- asked him if the Historical Society would be interested in hosting a lunch at the end of the "Paddles Up" event.
"My angle," said Nestark, "is that I am always looking for exposure, exposure, exposure for the Historical Society."
Leuchner stepped down from chairing the event after nine years. The new chair of "Paddles Up" is Joe Menter, recreation supervisor for the Town of Grand Island.
Kim Nestark, who was in charge of serving the food at River Lea, said, "It was a beautiful day for the event."
Cooke arrived at the luncheon after most of the boaters. She said that, after all of the kayaks and canoes set off on the course, she was offered the opportunity to try out one of the kayaks. She paddled around a lagoon for about an hour.
"I had a blast," Cooke said.
Moments before the event, Joe Menter, chairman of the event and the Town of Grand Island recreation director, presented Paul Leuchner an award for his part in creation of "Paddles Up." Leuchner was chairman of "Paddles Up" for the first nine years of its existence and is the event's founder in his time working with the Niagara Greenway Commission. "Paddles Up" is the signature event of the Niagara Greenway Commission.