by Autumn Evans
Paddles Up Niagara, the Niagara River Greenway Commission's annual paddle sports event, returns to Grand Island Saturday, July 26, for its ninth year of operation.
The main attraction of Paddles Up is its 4.8-mile paddle from the Little Beaver Launch Site to the East River Marsh Site and back.
Rob Belue, executive director of the Greenway Commission, called Paddles Up the largest event of its kind in the area. He also said it draws in tourism to the Island.
"It brings in people from off the Island to see what it looks like," he said, adding that there have been registrants from across Western New York, Ohio and Massachusetts. "It's all about getting people to gain access to the Niagara River."
Belue said there were about 150 people pre-registered for the event, and he expected more to show up "at the door" on the day of the event.
Paddles Up will kick off with a Poker Run at 7 a.m., followed by the Paddle Fair at 8:30. During the fair, visitors will have the opportunity to try out kayaks and canoes as well as learn more about paddle sports safety and the history of the Niagara River.
There will be a paddle sprint competition between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. During that time, Jeff and Laura Liebel of WEKANU will also present a freestyle and rescue demonstration.
The name of the event, Paddles Up, comes from the Native American custom of pointing canoe paddles up when approaching land, to signal that they came in peace and request permission to land.
As a nod to that custom, a member of the Tuscarora Nation will perform a departure ceremony at 11:30 a.m. to signal the start of the paddle around Beaver Island.
All participants who enter the water must fill out waiver forms and wear life jackets. Registration is free, and can be completed up to and including the day of the event. Normal state park entrance fees still apply.
To receive or download registration forms for Paddles Up Niagara, or for more information on the Niagara River Greenway Commission, visit www.niagaragreenway.org or call 716-773-5361.