Written by Caurie Putnam, Democrat & Chronicle, link to original post
Two years ago Carol Colton, 42, of Le Roy, was invited to go kayaking in Black Creek with friends. She had never been kayaking and didn’t have her own kayak, but it was no matter her friends told her, they had one she could borrow.
“It took me about 10 minutes to fall in love with it and decide I would get my own kayak,” Colton, said. Now, she has five kayaks.
Kayaking has become an important part of Colton’s life and a way she spends quality time with her husband Brian and four children Natalie, 8, Sara, 10, Emily,11, and Sam, 13.
“The kids are growing up so fast; this is a way to slow things down,” said Colton, whose family usually kayaks in Oatka or Black Creeks, but have also kayaked in the Adirondacks. “There’s a sense of peacefulness and calm when you’re kayaking that’s hard to find in day to day life.”
All over the Rochester region individuals and families like the Coltons are discovering the benefits of kayaking and taking advantage of the plethora of waterways that run through the area. “We’ve seen a huge growth in kayaking over the past few years,” said Peter Abele, president of the Erie Canal Boat Company Inc., located in the village of Fairport.
In 2006, Abele’s company — which rents recreational kayak and canoes designed for those with little or no paddling experience — put 1,500 paddlers in the Erie Canal. In 2012, that number swelled to 4,000.
“It’s becoming more popular with families because it’s something all ages can do together,” said Abele, who last year saw kayakers ranging from ages 8 to late 80s in his boats.
Abele also believes that handicapped accessibility has played a part in the growth of kayaking. He has a Hoyer Lift on his docks that allows him to place wheel chair bound individuals into a kayak.
Abele considers the canal to be an excellent place for beginners to learn to kayak. “The nice thing about the canal is that there are virtually no waves,” Abele said. “In Fairport we have 16 miles of almost no currents, which makes it great for beginners.”
Another popular Rochester waterway to learn to kayak is Irondequoit Bay, which is home to several paddling companies, including BayCreek Paddling Center, founded in 1996
“Kayaking is a really easy sport for people of all ages to get into,” said Dave Hulburt, manager and head sea kayak coach at BayCreek. “And having the resource of Irondequoit Bay and Irondequoit Creek right here, 10 minutes from downtown Rochester is a huge advantage.”
Hulburt says BayCreek’s business has grown “leaps and bounds” over the years as Rochesterians discover the “secret wilderness” of the waterways around it. “We have five miles of wetlands in Irondequoit Creek and it almost feels like you’re in the Adirondacks,” Hulburt said. “On the bay there’s tons of wildlife and you see things you wouldn’t expect to see just 10 minutes from downtown Rochester.”
BayCreek offers sales, rentals, classes, overnight kayak camping excursions, and a kayak summer camp for kids ages 7 to 13.
Elena Vandebroek, 24, was one of the first campers to go through BayCreek’s camp. She was eight and fell in love with kayaking immediately. “I like being on the water,” Vandebroek, a Penfield native, said in an interview from her current home in San Francisco, Calif. “It’s like being on top of a mountain, but you’re looking out instead of down. ”
When Vandebroek aged-out of the camp, she was still too young to be an instructor, so she volunteered to wash boats at BayCreek just to be around the kayaking scene.
She later became a counselor and then an instructor of a kayaking class at Cornell University, where she attended college. Currently, she is a coastal engineer and sea kayaks in the San Francisco Bay and Santa Barbara area.
Before moving to California Vandebroek achieved a goal of kayaking in each of the eleven Finger Lakes — her favorites were Canadice and Cayuga. “It was really fun because each of the lakes is really different,” Vandebroek said. “Some have wetlands and secret waterfalls. Each lake has its own history and paddling experience.”
Vandebroek meticulously and beautifully chronicled each of her Finger Lakes kayaking explorations in a kayaking blog she still maintains called http://www.nakedkayaker.com/ “I’m really glad I grew up in Rochester,” Vandebroek said. “It was such a great place to learn how to paddle.”
Learning how to paddle is a key component of one of Rochester’s most important resources for kayaking: the Genesee Waterways Center (GWC). Founded in 1996, the GWC is an independent, not-for-profit organization, promoting affordable human-powered paddling, rowing, and related outdoor activities in the Genesee region.
Instructors at the GWC have taught students from around the world and with varying degrees of experience at their two facilities in Rochester: the GWC Boathouse on the Genesee River at Genesee Valley Park on Elmwood Ave. and The Lock 32 Whitewater Park, which opened in 2000.
“Lock 32 is unique and extremely fascinating,” said Cindy M. Stachowski, executive director of the GWC. “We took a spillway used for flood control and adjusting water levels and created a 700 yard whitewater kayaking course. There is no other such place in New York state like it.”
Lock 32, which opened in 2000, provides a controlled environment in which students can learn and a challenging area for experienced paddlers to practice. The course features a set of squirt lines, two wave and two holes and a constant source of water every day.
At the Genesee River facility, flat water kayak rentals and classes are offered for all individuals and groups of all levels. “You can paddle 26 miles to the Mount Morris Dam or north one and a half miles for a spectacular view of the city skyline,” Stachowski said.
Stachowski took over the helm of the GWC in 2009 and has seen tremendous growth. A Groupon promotion last May offering a ½ day of canoe or kayak rental at the GWC for $15 sold a staggering 3,000 coupons. “When I first started working here it was a hidden treasure and I said ‘We don’t want to be a hidden treasure,’ ” Stachowski said.
She believes the growing popularity of kayaking in Rochester is due to a greater awareness of our natural and water resources. “I’ve traveled the whole of the U.S., but the water resources here in Rochester are phenomenal,” Stachowski said. “We have the Genesee River, Erie Canal, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, Letchworth, creeks, Irondequoit Bay… We’re very lucky.”
Two guidebooks offer detailed maps and information on paddling options in the greater Rochester NY area:
Take A Paddle – Western New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks
Take A Paddle – Finger Lakes New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks