Sunday, June 29, 2003

1,000 canoeists row, row, row down Ohio



By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Gov. Bob Taft and his wife, Hope, lead the way for the Paddlefest.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
It's a be-in. A happening. Woodstock for canoeists.

That's how organizer Brewster Rhoads described the Ohio River Way Paddlefest.

Saturday's event, which stretched from Four Seasons Marina on Kellogg Avenue to the Serpentine Wall at Sawyer Point downtown, drew more than 1,000 canoe and kayak enthusiasts of all ages. About 970 of those were paddlers - 56 of whom participated in races.

The Ohio was closed to commercial barge traffic during the morning to make way for the paddlers.

"It's a beautiful thing to have everyone share the same emotions, the same physical space, the same energy," said Mike Mathes, 28, of Covington, who participated in the six-mile float trip.

The crowd, many of whom danced to live music and enjoyed refreshments during the post-paddle party, was upbeat.

"People were just looking for another thing to do that's fun, and this is unique, fun event - and it's in their own back yard," Rhoads said.

Out-of-towners joined in the fun, too. Todd Demianych, 28, of Clemson, S.C., was in town to pick up a new boat when he happened upon Paddlefest. He then participated in the six-mile float.

"I figured there couldn't be a better maiden voyage for my new boat," he said.

Community leaders also got into in the paddle-palooza. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and first lady Hope Taft kicked off the event. Rep. Rob Portman participated in the races. The mayors of Maysville, Covington, New Richmond and Cincinnati were present, as were several Tristate council members.

"This isn't just about Cincinnati," Rhoads said. "The river connects us all, and this event connects people up and down the river."

The Ohio River was the star of the event. All proceeds from Paddlefest will go to the Ohio River Way, Inc., a nonprofit group working to promote and protect the river.

"When you see an armada of brightly colored boats all coming down the river on a beautiful day, it gives you hope for the future," Rhoads said. "These people will remember this and will become stewards for the river."

After last year's inaugural event with 485 participants, Paddlefest even caught the eye of the American Canoe Association, which became a sponsor this year.

"It's hard to express how satisfying it is to see so many people having such a great time for such a great cause," said Pamela Dillon, executive director of the canoe group.

Fourteen-mile pro canoe race: Tom Ackmeyer and Ray Bauer, first; Keith Collins and Dan Mecklenberg, second; Matt Coutts and Cameron Slater, third. Amateur race results were not available Saturday.

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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