Power of the Paddle

The Chemung River has been in my backyard since I moved to Elmira more than three years ago. I can walk to a boat launch in less time than it takes me to blow dry my hair in the morning. Up until last week, though, I hadn’t really experienced it more than taking a gander from its banks.

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Back in 1972, there was a terrible flood in Elmira when Hurricane Agnes hit, and unfortunately, the river got a bad rap that was not only unfair, but extremely long-lasting. In recent years, though, community members and tourists alike have started embracing the river and realizing its potential as an asset and attraction.

Two of the biggest movers in this 180 turn are Friends of the Chemung River Watershed and Southern Tier Kayak Tours (STKT), who have made efforts to educate the public and get people paddling to see for themselves all the beauty the river has to offer.

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I decided that it was past time to explore what’s in my own backyard, so I signed up for one of River Friends’ public paddles. These paddles were offered several times this summer (and River Friends plans to offer them again next year, so keep an eye on their website!). They’re available for only $25 per person, are done in partnership with STKT, and feature some educational lessons about the river as well.

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I’d been in a kayak before, but that was a two-person kayak on an inlet in California, so I was pretty much a novice at paddling solo. I was a little nervous at first, mostly about steering and handling the kayak. I was not going into this with a stellar history when it comes to water sports. Like, I might have flunked diving two years in a row and become a childhood swimming lesson dropout. Might have tipped a sea-do last summer. Might have…you get my point.

I was surprised, though, that once you get going, paddling becomes a very natural movement, and it’s easy to pick up on how to redirect yourself out on the water. Southern Tier Kayak Tours did a quick tutorial before we got into the kayaks, and I found that was really all I needed, even as a beginner. I finished the paddle thinking that it was absolutely enjoyable and something I would do again.

The other great thing about going on a paddle is getting the opportunity to meet and chat with people in the community that you might otherwise never have met. I wasn’t expecting that added bonus to the paddle, but it was nice to develop that sort of camaraderie born of a shared experience.

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River Friends also launches efforts to keep the river clean and has many other projects worth checking out, including their partnership with Birdland Brewing, which offers Osprey Ale, a “crisp, light bodied ale with perfectly blended hop bitterness and a delicate citrus finish.” It’s made with New York State grain and hops, and a portion of the sales from this beer goes to River Friends to help protect the river and waterfowl. (In addition to being available at Birdland, it can also be found at local venues including Classic Café and The Starlite Room.)

I went away thinking that paddling is a wonderful, gentle, serene experience that shouldn’t be missed, and that it should be done with professionals like STKT. They check the river pre-paddle, they guide you through any tricky spots, they’re really friendly and knowledgeable, they bus you back to your car at the end of the paddle, and they GIVE YOU SQUIRT GUNS. What’s not to love?

STKT does Paddle the Palisades tours exploring the river valley between Corning and Elmira on a regular basis, including in the fall for leaf peeping. You can check out their calendar here.

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This was honestly one of the best “Adventures In and Around Chemung County Since 2011” that I’ve had. Rookie’s Tip: Don’t wait as long as I did to experience it for yourself!

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Friends of the Chemung River Watershed
111 North Main Street, Elmira, NY 14901
(607) 846-2242
http://www.chemungriverfriends.org

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Southern Tier Kayak Tours
P.O. Box 293, Lansing, NY 14882
(607) 220-3642
http://www.stktours.com