By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
For the second year in a row, a record number of participants took part in Paddles Up Niagara.
Close to 400 paddlers signed up for the signature event of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, held Saturday at Beaver Island State Park. The mark broke last year's mark of 311, according to Chris Murawski, director of community engagement for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, a partner putting on the 13th annual event with New York State Parks and the Town of Grand Island.
Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, told paddlers as they departed from the Beaver Island beach for the 11:30 a.m. main paddle, "Thank you for lending your voices. Thank you for using our waters. Thank you for helping us take our water back and protect it for future generations."
Once underway in the 11:30 a.m. non-competitive paddle, paddlers followed the shoreline around Beaver Island State Park's beach and into the lagoon. "Look for osprey or maybe a possible bald eagle sighting," Murawski advised the paddlers. After returning to the launch site, paddlers had an option to head toward the East River Marsh.
Members of the Paddles Up organizing committee include chairman Joe Menter, recreation supervisor for the Town of Grand Island; Paul Leuchner of Grand Island, commissioner emeritus of the Niagara River Greenway Commission and founder of Paddles Up; Greg Brown, the park manager of Beaver Island State Park; and Angela Berti with New York State Parks. Murawski also thanked the Town of Grand Island Recreational Department staff, saying, "They're a crucial partner in our event."
Event organizers also honored Jeannette and Frank Levin with a special recognition for what Murawski called their "support and leadership for 25 years ago spearheading the restoration of Strawberry Island, which kind of kicked off the whole restoration of this beautiful area of the river." Erosion threatened to wash away Strawberry Island from the river.
"I think it's just a really great time," Murawski said of the appeal of Paddles Up. "It's a good family event. There's lots of like-minded people; you can meet a lot of people that like to paddle. It's a beautiful area to paddle in, and also it's a very safe environment."
Paddles Up Niagara 2018 was part of the Toyota Waterkeeper Alliance Splash Series, which encourages paddle sport enthusiasts to take part in a string of nationwide events. For paddle sportsmen and women visiting the Buffalo Niagara region for the first time, Murawski said Paddles Up of Grand Island presented just one of a multitude of venues to enjoy their sports.
"I would say it's a paddling paradise," Murawski said in describing Buffalo Niagara. "You have tons of different big water. You have lakes, you have small tributaries, quiet tributaries that you could paddle in. You've got a lot of different things you could do."
Murawski thanked Grand Island sponsors of Paddles Up Anchor Marine and Solarize Grand Island.