I’m not sure what my first paddle trip was; probably a day trip at Findley with Dad. By the time I was in seventh grade though, I was pretty much a paddle pro! Trips down the Mohican with the youth group from St. Andrew’s or weeks spent on the lake at Camp Firelands had made my Hiawatha dreams come true and I would J-stroke any canoe, maneuver any kayak or row any skiff I could put my twelve year old hands on. It’s been a skill that’s taken me a lot of places that roads won’t take you, and it’s not just basic transportation; paddle boating has always been fun in and of itself. By the time I got to Ohio State I would spend my few leisure hours on the Big Darby Creek, southwest of Columbus, and be totally alone; just me, a borrowed canoe and my fishing pole. I haven’t been back there since I sang Carmen Ohio, grabbed a sheepskin and left campus, but last Friday afternoon I found myself right back on the banks of the Big Darby with some distinguished company, for a very big announcement.
Starting today The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft begins an exciting new program called, “Paddle Ohio” to promote paddle sports along Ohio’s many wild and scenic waterways. It’s a double edged effort, not only raising awareness of paddle-sports, but also generating awareness of efforts to protect and restore our rivers and streams.
Those of you who are familiar with the Division of Wildlife’s “Fish Ohio” program that awards trophy pins for an outstanding catch of game fish will notice the many similarities with Paddle Ohio. Boaters register to paddle four designated scenic rivers or water trails, send a report of their trip to the Division of Watercraft, and upon completing the fourth waterway, you’ll qualify for a commemorative (and coveted) Paddle Ohio pin, along with some pretty impressive bragging rights! Now I know some of you can cover this feat in one month, and the Watercraft people thought of that too, so they’ve made it possible to qualify for up to five pins a year. That’s 20 paddled rivers and a couple of very sore arms!
I was hoping to canoe a few miles of the Big Darby that day with this group that ranged from water biologists to the directors of Ohio Tourism and the Department of Natural Resources, but as you may recall, Mother Nature had other plans dumping a lot of rain on us the night before and raising the creek to unsafe levels. As bummed as I was about that, it did give me a chance to chat with the new Division of Watercraft Assistant Chief Mike Miller who says paddling as a sport is on the rise in Ohio for good reason. It turns out that Ohio has more registered watercraft than all but nine other states! That might not surprise you seeing how much coastline we have on Lake Erie in the north and the Ohio River in the south, but it’s the number of un-motorized boats that’s really on the surge, up 117% (that’s over 70,000 boats!) in the last nine years, and the number of liveries are up 47%! Couple that with jobs it generates and the tourism dollars spread throughout the state and it’s easy to see, Ohio’s boat floats on…boats! Despite those great coasts, Franklin County (Columbus) has more registered boats than any other boats in the state, and it’s because of the number of accessible rivers and waterways located throughout the state. Mike says it’s easy and cheap to get into paddling, the boats are easy to haul and store, and that’s what makes it so popular for so many people today. I’d have to agree with his observations and add that for many people it’s not as intimidating or dangerous as big-water boating, and I see almost as many paddle boaters in their 50’s and 60’s as in their 20’s and 30’s. What other sport can say that?
When you get in a paddle craft, there’s more to it than being in a boat in the water. You end up being aware of an avenue of the wilds that never sleeps, bustling all around you. It’s an educational opportunity to see wildlife mammal, bird and aquatic species you won’t find in the field or the deep woods. It’s exercise, it’s recreation, it’s quality time with your loved ones, and it’s adventure!
If you still find paddling intimidating, check out one of the classes offered by Lorain County Metroparks if you want to improve your skills or get in touch with a group like the LoCo ‘Yaks kayakers. Wear your PFD and GET OUTDOORS!