By Alice E. Gerard
For the first time in the 11-year history of Paddles Up!, canoeists and kayakers launched from the beach at Beaver Island State Park during three different noncompetitive paddling events. The previous location was by the hill. Other new things for the event, which was held on July 30, included five food trucks and a beer tent.
Paddles Up! is the result of cooperation between the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the Town of Grand Island, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
According to Joe Menter, the town's recreation supervisor and event chair for Paddles Up!, approximately 210 persons participated in the event. That, he said, is in line with previous years, in which approximately 200 to 220 persons attended.
Menter explained, "We've changed up the event. We added two morning paddles: an eco tour and an early bird paddle. Both take paddlers out into the river and focus on Strawberry Island and Motor Boat Island. The tour includes the East River Marsh. The early bird paddle is self-paced, and the eco tour is guided. The tour is led by Tim DePriest of the Department of Environmental Conservation."
"The late morning fun paddle," Menter said, "leaves from the beach. It follows the Beaver Island shoreline past the swimming area and the marine, into the lagoon. It then follows the shoreline back to the beach."
Strawberry Island and Motor Boat Island are still in the river because of ongoing reconstruction work. Repairing damage that had been done to Strawberry Island occurred in 1993 and the project was financed by real estate investor Frank Levin, who was one of several speakers prior to the launch of the late morning paddle. He and his wife Jeanette said that they came to support the event.
"It's very nice to be part of the kickoff of such an environmental impact on Western New York," Frank Levin said. "It's very important to continue what has been started to the benefit of the Niagara River and all of the islands in the river."
He said that he and Jeanette decided to finance saving Strawberry Island after Paul Leuchner, the founding chair of Paddles Up!, took him on a trip to Strawberry Island. "It was a cold day. We landed, and I took a little walk all by myself. When I came back, he could see the look in my face. He said, 'You're going to do it.' I said, 'With my wife's approval.' "
The beer tent is also new this year. The beer was donated by Flying Bison Brewing Co., and the tent was staffed by members of the Grand Island Historical Society. In previous years, the Historical Society hosted a luncheon for paddlers, with all proceeds going to the society.
Society President Curt Nestark said, "The luncheon was fun, but now it's over. We wanted to stay involved in the Paddles Up! event. We decided, why not do breakfast? We sold fruit, muffins, breakfast bars, coffee, and Gatorade. We also staffed the beer tent. We were invited by organizer Joe Menter. He said that, if we are willing to staff it, whatever monies come in are ours. Why not? If you don't try new things, you don't know if they are going to work or not."
The new food trucks at Paddles Up! this year were Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles, Cheesy Chick (grilled cheese), Shish Ka Bob Heaven, GG's Franks, and House of Munch (carnival food).
There were other new aspects to this year's events. Ro Woodard of the New York State Parks Marine Services Bureau said, "We are doing the Safe 'n' Sight paddle reflective sticker program. Paddlers are hard to see in the water because they are low profile. One of the ways that boaters can identify paddlers is by the movement of the paddle. The sticker on the paddle will catch the rays of the sun. It's like a little signal mirror. We are handing them out this year for the first time."
Another object that Woodard displayed was the "new emergency beacon that is required for motor boats. The beacon shines straight up and straight out. It does an SOS if the boat is in distress. It runs on three C batteries and costs $100. It can run all night and can be seen by helicopters. It is brand new and Coast Guard approved."
Woodard compared the emergency beacon to a "miniature lighthouse."
For safety, boaters need a life jacket, a whistle, and a white light if they are going out at night.
Gwen Temple and Holly Flanigan are boat stewards who work for New York State Parks and Recreation. "We are trying to get the word out about invasive species, and we are trying to stop the spread of those species." Temple said some of the invasive species found in water include zebra mussels, round gobies (fish), and Eurasian water milfoil (vegetation). She said quagga mussels have been seen in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Niagara River. Because the lakes and river are connected, "if something is in one (body of water), it will make its way to another."
"It is important for people to check their boats before going into a new body of water so they are not bringing anything new in. It is especially important if there are no boat stewards available," Temple said.
She said the best way to check boats is a three-step process: clean (remove plants, animals, fish, mud, etc., from boats and trailers), drain (drain the water from the boat before departing), and dry the boat thoroughly for at least five days.
Laura Liebel of Wekanu, who came with her husband Jeff, did the safety demonstration. "The venue allowed us to create a display and an ability to interact on a one-on-one basis," Laura said.
Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder of Seabirds International said that the event was wonderful. Seabirds International provided prizes and vouchers for lessons and T-shirts. She offered "tips and tricks for efficient paddling."
Seabirds International offers kayak instruction and guided tours. It also offers an adaptive paddling program for people with physical disabilities.
Mark Thomas, regional director of New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, said, "We had good attendance and tremendous volunteer support."
Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said, "This is a great event." He described the event as an opportunity to "embrace the natural habitat." He said this sort of event is part of our "region's and Island's efforts to create a green pathway that will make a healthier and happier people and will improve our standard of living."
Greg Stevens, chair of the Niagara River Greenway, said, "The kayak is a great symbol of accessibility for our greenway (land) and our blueway (water)."
Participants in the event talked about their experiences with paddle sports and with Paddles Up!
Former Town Supervisor Mary Cooke was one of the participants in the early bird paddle. "I had fun. It was a beautiful day for the water. Strawberry Island is much larger than it looks from a map. I saw blue herons, cormorants (aquatic birds), and a mom and baby ducks. They were absolutely adorable," Cooke said.
Don Zelazny, from the Lancaster/Elma area, dressed in a French voyageur outfit from the 1700s and 1800s for the paddle. "The French started in Montreal and paddled up the St. Lawrence River. They traveled across the Great Lakes to the far end of Lake Superior. The trip took all summer. They took supplies with them. At Lake Superior, they either carried their canoes or they paddled into the far interior of Canada. They traded supplies with the Indians for furs. They paddled back to Montreal with the furs, which were sent to Europe and made into coats and hats."
Fran Wagner of the Scajaquada Canoe Club came with four club members and a canoe large enough to accommodate five canoeists. "We canoe all season long and train to go on a 90-mile canoe race in September in the Adirondacks."
According to Menter, the event went well. "The changes were good. I got a few emails over the weekend. People liked the food trucks and the beer tent. It was a nice launch area. Most people stayed around after the event was over."
Leuchner said, "I think that that the public really enjoyed it. There was a nice breeze. The water views were phenomenal. It felt more neighborly."
An aerial photo shows the start and finish area of Paddles Up! (Photo by K&D Action Photo and Aerial Imaging)