Annual Niagara River Greenway event is Saturday
By Susan Mikula Campbell
The annual "Paddles Up" event was the one of the first things Amy Smith and her family participated in after moving to Grand Island four years ago in July.
She, her husband George and son Kaden, now 10, plan to be back again this Saturday, July 25, among the more than 200 paddle enthusiasts expected to attend.
"We do it as a family every year," Smith said. "It's such a great event, we just keep going."
This is the 10th year the Niagara River Greenway Commission and the Town of Grand Island have held "Paddles Up" at Beaver Island State Park. A highlight of the event is the noncompetitive 4.8-mile paddle for those who own or can borrow kayaks, canoes or stand up paddleboards. An early morning Kayak Poker Run is scheduled from 7 to 9:15 a.m. After the 10:30 a.m. photo session and a Native American departure ceremony, paddlers will launch about 11 a.m. for the Niagara River Fun Paddle.
Smith enjoys the event's friendly atmosphere, light to moderate activity level and the land activities including vendors, demonstrations and education programs on topics of boating safety and conservation.
Even those who don't paddle will be able to try out one of the kayaks brought by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
It's all free, except for those who want to partake in the historic River Lea tour/picnic lunch at the end of the event.
"Paddles Up" was founded by Paul Leuchner, now retired from the Army Corps of Engineers and a charter member of the Niagara River Greenway Commission. This year, Leuchner passed chairmanship of the event to Joe Menter, recreation supervisor for the Town of Grand Island, but still is participating.
Leuchner founded "Paddles Up" back in 2006 when then-state Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Bernadette Castro suggested the Niagara River Greenway needed a signature event. Leuchner came up with the idea of "Paddles Up," a kayak event, and had it "up running and delivered within two weeks."
The phrase "paddles up" signifies a Native American tradition of travelers raising paddles in the air when approaching land to show that they come in peace seeking food and lodging, Leuchner said.
That first year, a 9-year-old Tuscarora boy, in his native language, delivered the blessing. Since then, either he or another member of the Tuscarora Nation has participated in "Paddles Up," delivering a tribute to earth, sky and water, Leuchner said.
Leuchner has been kayaking for more than 25 years. When he first started, "people laughed at me and told me it was dangerous."
Nowadays, more than 500,000 kayaks are sold annually in the United States and the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that by 2020 more than a third to a half of craft on the waterways will be some kind of paddle craft, Leuchner said.
"Boating (motorized) has become a very expensive hobby," he said, noting that paddle crafts not only represent a much smaller investment, but also provide "a green form of recreation, not impacting the environment to any great degree."
"Paddles Up," like the paddling sport, also has grown in size over the years. It not only attracts people from Grand Island and Western New York, but from elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, Leuchner said.
Menter first participated in "Paddles Up" in 2013. Prior to taking the recreation position, as a teacher, he had a summer job working at a sports camp in Canada. However, the new "Paddles Up" chairman has been paddling for years, and, like Leuchner, is pleased to see interest in the sport growing in this area and elsewhere.
"Once you have the paddling bug, you're out there sometimes even before the ice is out on the river and keep going until it's frozen over," he said.
Those who paddle are happy to talk with others about their sport and their equipment.
The Smiths plan to do the early morning paddle "the one before the heat of the day" at "Paddles Up." They will be easy to spot in their still fairly new-to-this-area hybrid kayak. The deep-water-blue-colored kayak seats three, each person behind each other, similar to canoe seating. Most people are used to seeing single-seat kayaks or occasionally a two-person tandem kayak.
"A lot of people stop us and ask, 'What is that, a canoe or a kayak?' and always ask where we got it," Smith said.
Sponsors are important to "Paddles Up." "They really help keep it a free event and a good event," Menter said.
This year's sponsors include the Town of Grand Island, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Marine Safety Division, Tops Markets, Cabela's, Paths, Peaks and Paddles, Eastern Mountain Sports, Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Bill's Boatworks, Anchor Marine, Catt Rafting Adventures, K&D Action Photo and Aerial Imaging and WEKANU.
7-9:15 a.m.: Early morning Kayak Poker Run, launch from East River Marsh
9:15 a.m.: Poker Run raffle draw
8:30-11:30a.m.: Paddle Fair, with product demonstrations, learn to paddle and vendors
9:30-10:30 a.m.: WEKANU paddle demonstration.
10:30-11 a.m.: Group photo, Native American departure ceremony and launching of paddle craft
1 p.m.: Lunch fundraiser and tour of River Lea
For more event information: Visit www.wnylife.com/paddlesup2015.htm.