Paddles Up! A celebration of the Niagara River (part two)

On Saturday, July 30th, the eleventh annual Paddles Up! event was held at Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island, New York. This event is the result of cooperation between the Town of Grand Island, the Niagara River Greenway, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. The day started off cool and rainy but the rain soon stopped and the air became warmer. I went to the event as a journalist, working on a photo essay for the Island Dispatch.
In addition to photographing the boat launches, I interviewed people who had set up displays. These two are Gwen Temple and Holly Flanigan. They work for New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation as boat stewards. According to Holly, “We are here getting the word out about invasive species. We’re trying to stop the spread.”

Invasive aquatic species include water chestnut, zebra or quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and Asian clams. Because Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are connected by the Niagara River, “if something is in one (body of water), it will make its way to another,” said Gwen.

It’s important for people to check their boats before going into a new body of water because it is possible for people to inadvertently carry invasive species on their boats. The best way to take care of kayaks and canoes is to clean the boat, drain all of the water out, and let the boat dry in full sun for five days.

Ro Woodard (in the baseball cap) is from the New York State Parks Marine Services Bureau. She has stuff for boaters to make their experience in the water safer. One new program is called 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, like a little signal mirror. We are handing them out this year for the first time.” Another new item is the emergency beacon that is required for motorboats and optional, but recommended, for nonmotorized boats. The beacon looks like a flashlight and it operates on three C cell batteries. It costs $100.

The beacon shines straight up and straight out and can be seen by helicopters at night. It can run all night. It does an SOS if the boat is in distress. It comes with a daytime visual distress flag. “It’s like a miniature lighthouse. Anything that helps you be safe is encouraged,” Ro said. She said that boaters should be equipped with a life jacket, a whistle, and, if they are going out at night, a white light.

This is the Scajaquada Canoe Club. The boaters who came to Paddles Up! are (from left) Fran Wagner, Smeddie Jimenez, Phil Gigliotti, Michael Cirrito, and Aaron Krehbiel. According to Fran, “We canoe all season long and train to go on a 90-mile canoe race in September in the Adirondacks. They brought a large canoe to fit five but they own bigger canoes.” One of their bigger canoes is an eight-person voyager war canoe. “It was built in Buffalo by the Buffalo Maritime Center.” The club’s goals are to improve the quality of the Scajaquada Creek (in Buffalo) and to get access to the creek for paddlers. “We are a green team. We plant trees and participate in beach sweeps.”

This is Don Zelazny, dressed in a French Voyager outfit from the 1700s and 1800s. “They were the first Europeans to canoe through the Great Lakes and Canada. They started in Montreal and paddled up the Saint Lawrence River to Lake Ontario. They traveled across the Great Lakes and, after reaching the far end of Lake Superior, they traveled  to the far interior of Canada.” They either carried their canoes or paddled. They traded supplies for fur with the first nations. They they paddled back to Montreal, with the furs, which were sent to Europe to be made into coats and hats.

Don has participated in re-enactments in Fort Niagara.

Before the late morning paddle begins, Joe Menter, who is chair of the event, welcomes  the paddlers. 

Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray shares his enthusiasm for the town and the river. “This is a great placed to be. We have two state parks. We have embraced our natural habitat. Strawberry Island was almost gone but it is in the process of being restored. Western New York is really blessed.”

Nate said that there are many options that would show off the beauty of the community and of the river. The event, he said, “is part of our region and island’s efforts to create a green pathway that will make us a healthier and happier people and will improve our standard of living.”

As for the event: “I love it. I will have to go back (next year). This is a great event.”

This is Mark Thomas, the regional director of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. He thanked everyone for coming to Beaver Island State Park to participate in the paddling event. The event, he said later, was quite successful. “We had good attendance and tremendous volunteer support.”

The man at the microphone is Frank Levin, a retired real estate investor. He is joined by his wife, Jeanette. In the early 1990s, when Strawberry Island was nearly disappeared into the river, he, with Jeanette’s support, raised the funds for the restoration of that island. Frank, who recently turned 90, expressed appreciation for being part of the kickoff of this event. He told me about how he got involved with saving this island.  He said that Paul Leuchner, who was looking to save the island, called him for help. “If the island were gone, it would create havoc in the river. This had to be done right away. Paul took me out with a group on a cold day (on a boat). 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 gonna do it.’ I said, ‘With my wife’s approval.’ The rest is history, which we’re very happy to be a part of.”

For a story that I wrote about Strawberry Island in January 2015, click onto “link” below:

Below are some of the images from Paddles Up! Everyone had a good time on the water. Paul Leuchner said, “I think that the public really enjoyed it. More people stayed here longer. There was a nice breeze. The beach launch was accessible and user friendly. There was a nice breeze. It was cool and comfortable. The water view was phenomenal.”

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