by Sarah Dollendorf
The eighth annual "Paddles Up Niagara," presented by the Niagara River Greenway Commission - the organization that initially created a 25-mile length paddle-sport trail in the Niagara River in 2006 - is to take place along the southeastern shores of Grand Island on Saturday, July 27.
Hosted by Beaver Island State Park, the Town of Grand Island, Anchor Marine and WEKANU, the event's activities will span throughout the day, with the main attraction consisting of a non-competitive 4.8-mile paddle from the Little Beaver launch site around to the East River Marsh site and back to Little Beaver within the state park.
The phrase "paddles up" is derived from the Native American practice of pointing paddles skyward when coming to shore to signify peace and to ask for permission to land for food and rest. Thus, with Grand Island's strong ties to the once Native American lands, a long-standing native custom is honored through the name "Paddles Up Niagara," as well as through each participant's commencement of a long journey on the water.
"We invite the Tuscarora Nation, and typically they send a representative who gives their Native American blessing to the event through the cherishing of the sun, sky, wind, water and the entire environment," said Rob Belue, Greenway Commission executive director.
"Paddles Up Niagara" will begin after this traditional Native American departure ceremony at 11:30 a.m., "in order for us to fully respect and enjoy the paddle," Belue said.
Other events will take place before the canoe and kayak paddle, with a "Poker Run" kicking off the day's activities at 7 a.m. It launches at East River Marsh across Strawberry Island. That is followed by the Paddle Fair at 8:30 a.m., where friends and family - paddlers and non-paddlers - can "Discover Grand Island," a sub-theme for Paddles Up the Niagara. The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce's display booth will offer information about the businesses the group's members represent.
Additionally, "To entertain kids for the family event, the marine division from State Parks and the Army Corps will come out and set up a participation game - a toss of some sort," Belue said. "And folks will be able to enjoy the four-piece - clarinet, banjo, tuba and trombone - ensemble of 23 Skidoo, that will perform popular rhythms from the '20s to the '50s with a unique style."
Furthermore, at the Paddle Fair, paddle-sports retailers will offer the public and participants an opportunity to try out canoes and kayaks through product demos and paddle-sports equipment prizes, and beginners and enthusiasts will have access to additional paddle-sports safety information and to the natural attributes of the Niagara River corridor.
Laura and Jeff Liebel of WEKANU, who are certified ACA instructors, will present lessons on paddling to the public through a freestyle and rescue demonstration. For more information on their instruction, visit the Liebel's website at www.wekanu.com.
People who opt out of paddling will have the opportunity to not only bask in the beauty that Beaver Island State Park has to offer via the nature trails, but to also enjoy the golf course, beach, multiple playgrounds and picnic areas that are available.
Visitors can tour the historic River Lea house located within the park for a lunch fundraiser at 2:30 p.m. (with a required prepaid donation of $14).
All of the other activities are free; however, normal state park entrance fees will apply.
Pre-registration for paddling is available until July 13, and all on-water participants are required to register and complete the waiver forms.
Boat crews must wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices, and each participating canoe and kayak will be evaluated before paddling in the event to ensure the safety of every participant.
The first 100 paddlers to register will receive free "Paddles Up Niagara 2013" T-shirts to wear on the event day, July 27.
Upon entering Beaver Island State Park, participants should take the first right toward the sledding hill, or Little Beaver, for parking and launching.
For more information on the Greenway Commission, or to receive or download registration form for Paddles Up Niagara, visit www.niagaragreenway.org.