By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Reporter
The 17th annual Paddles Up Niagara is gearing up for another good run in the Niagara River on Saturday, July 29.
Paddlers should be plentiful on kayaks, canoes and paddle boards as the event kicks off at Beaver Island State Park.
The 10:30 Fun Paddle is the big event – possibly the biggest in New York state — with hundreds of participants all launching at the same time.
“We had right around 300 last year; we’re hoping to do the same this year,” said Michelle Lockett, Niagara River Greenway community engagement director.
The paddlers meet at Shelter 2B, leave from Beaver Island beach, go past the marina, around Little Beaver Island, and then back to the launch site.
“Anybody that has a manually powered paddle boat is welcome to join us,” she said, noting about 95% of participants are kayakers.
“It’s a very safe event. We have not only New York State Parks Police on the water in motor boats and jet skis, but we also have the Grand Island Fire Co. also out there with boats, just making sure that the other recreational boaters stay clear of all of our participants.”
She said there are a good number of safety paddlers to help guide the group along the course.
Paddles Up file photo courtesy of Niagara River Greenway
Vendors will be at the event to satisfy participants’ interest in the environment, water safety equipment and the natural world around them.
“We have more vendors than we had last year,” Lockett said. “We do invite mostly environmental organizations to help spread awareness about our great green planet we live on, and specifically Grand Island will be a focus, too.”
“We’ll have Erie County Climate Action, Western New York Land Conservancy, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, of course. We have Black Rock Riverside Alliance that has a habitat project they’ll talk about,” Lockett said.
Also, Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and Environment will present information at the event. This is an organization cofounded by Grand Islanders Nicole Gerber and Dave Reilly.
The WNY Raptor and Wildlife Care organization will be on-site with a presentation, as well as other groups dedicated to the environment and nature.
There’s an ecohike led by members of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society, and there are three guided ecotours on kayak to give those who register early a chance to gain knowledge from experts while they paddle or hike through habitats. The ecohike is limited to 16 participants, while the kayak ecotours are limited to 15 participants – so organizers encourage early reservations.
Lockett said the “ecotour lite” is new this year, led by Paul Leuchner, who teaches participants about the habitat restoration that went on several years ago on the East River.
“It’s geared towards people who maybe aren’t as strong a paddler – maybe beginners – and it’s going to go from East River Marsh,” she said.
The tour starts at 7 a.m. at the kayak launch and goes along the shoreline of the marsh to see the different wildlife and plants that are around that area. The trip will take up to an hour.
Ecotour two and three, at 7 and 7:30 a.m., are offered by Grand Island Recreation Supervisor Joe Menter and tour guide Erin Redding, respectively.
Also new this year is the opportunity to take a 15-minute kayak trial session on a first-come, first-served basis. These sessions are offered by the New York state parks interpretive staff. Certified trainers Kelly Sieman and Tina Spencer also provide learn-to-kayak sessions throughout the summer. Kayaks and personal flotation devices are provided for each session of 10, and participants must be at least 12 years old.
If you decide to participate in the Fun Paddle, you can rent a kayak from Paddles Up partner Blue Water Marina, which brings quality kayaks right to the beach on the day of the event. It is located at 330 E. River Road. Contact them at 716-773-7884 or go to https://www.bluewatermarinagi.com/.
To register for the paddle or the ecotours, and for a complete list of vendors, visit https://www.niagararivergreenway.com/paddles-up.
Other features include:
•Food, including sandwiches, wraps and beverages from Bogey’s, available for purchase starting from 6-10:30 a.m. for the early morning ecotours, then resuming at 11:30 a.m. for lunch.
•The Grand Island Historical Society offers free admission for the day to River Lea, the restored 1849 farm house owned by Lewis Allen, uncle of President Grover Cleveland. People can take a look at memorabilia from that era.
•Give-aways, including a theme basket, a paddle and a life preserver.