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Greenway panel hopes river event for paddlers will be a big splash

Updated: 07/26/07 7:02 AM

 Anyone looking to get out and enjoy the Niagara River will get an opportunity Saturday along the shores of Grand Island.

The second annual Paddles Up Niagara, a 4.8-mile course for paddle sports enthusiasts, will launch from Beaver Island State Park just after noon.

Following a traditional Native American departure ceremony, kayakers and canoers will head toward the East River Marsh launch site, the trip’s turnaround point.

Organizers from the Niagara River Greenway Commission say they’re aiming to raise awareness about public access to area waterways.

“We wanted to get people out on the river to enjoy it,” said Commissioner Paul G. Leuchner, seated in his own red kayak at the East River Marsh.

Organizers changed the route for this year’s event because the prevailing winds on the west side of the island posed some minor difficulties for participants, Leuchner said.

Saturday’s event begins at 8:30 a.m. with a Paddle Fair that includes product demonstrations.

Rob Belue, executive director of the commission, said he expects turnout to surpass last year’s 146 participants.

Last year’s youngest participant was 8 years old, while its oldest was 82. Paddlers for this year’s event are set to come from as far away as Ohio and Massachusetts, Belue said.

Event organizers also have developed a trail map showing river access points on Grand Island. Copies of the map will be available during Paddles Up Niagara.

A list of vendors that rent kayaks and canoes has been posted at the commission’s Web site, www.niagaragreenway.org. Organizers are urging participants to rent a canoe or kayak before they arrive at the event. Under state parks regulations, paddlers will not be able to rent a vessel inside Beaver Island. Those who have not yet registered but still want to participate are asked to visit the commission’s Web site to download a registration form. Completed forms may be faxed to 773-5392.

Walk-up registrations before the event also will be accepted, Belue said.

While Saturday’s event is being called a “fun paddle,” organizers say they have been considering establishing a competitive event.

The potential course could involve a 24-mile race around Grand Island.

The Grand Island Historical Society is sponsoring a fundraising lunch following Saturday’s event. The organization is also offering tours of the historic Riverlea site in Beaver Island.