Paddles Up !

Dear Islanders,

There’s lots of community events happening this month: Market Mondays at the Knights of Columbus, free yoga at the Town Commons on Thursday nights, Tuesday night concerts at the Commons, and Paddles Up Niagara. Today I want to talk a little bit about Paddles Up, and about the common thread that ties these events together: outdoor spaces in Grand Island.

Strawberry Island
Frank Levin and  Paul Leuchner were the catalysts for a conservation movement that has gone a long way into restoring the Niagara River. It started over 25 years ago at Strawberry Island when Mr. Levin used his money to save the little island that plays a big role in our ecosystem.

Strawberry Island was formed 12,000 years ago during the Wisconsinan glaciation period of the Ice Age, which left hundreds of acres of islands throughout the Niagara River area. Since then, the Strawberry Island complex has eroded significantly, and even became a party location of sorts for boaters.

In the 1990s the Army Corps of Engineers; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; and the Department of Environmental Conservation began restoration and preventative work to bring the island back to its natural state.

Strawberry Island protects Motor (Pirate’s) Island and Grand Island from the swift current of the Niagara River. It prevents erosion and protects one of the most diverse and important ecosystems in the Niagara River. On Strawberry Island today you can see bald eagles nesting and a wide variety of fish and other birds.

Paddles Up 
Paddles Up Niagara is an annual canoe, kayaking, and rowing event at Beaver Island, which takes place the last weekend of July every year. It’s not only one of the best events on Grand Island, in my opinion, but it’s one of the best events in Western New York.

It was founded in 2006 by Paul Leuchner, Grand Island resident and emeritus commissioner of the first Niagara River Greenway Commission. The purpose of Paddles Up was to create a signature event for the Niagara River Greenway Commission that would to draw people and attention to the Niagara River. And it sure does—last year I was amazed at the turnout. The event has doubled in size since it began. Last year there were over 300 paddlers! People of all ages and abilities get together to enjoy the beauty of Beaver Island and the Niagara River.

Paddles Up includes three different paddle events showcasing the natural beauty of Grand Island and the Niagara River. One of the paddle routes takes participants out to Strawberry Island and Motor Island, where they will see the wetlands, heron rookery, and a bald eagle nesting area, plus dozens of Great Blue Herons and egrets. It’s stunning.

Mr. Leuchner chaired Paddles Up for nine years before handing it over to the Grand Island Recreation Supervisor, Joe Menter, who has chaired the event for the past three years. This event is a great example of the positive effect government offices and organizations can have on the community. The Niagara River Greenway Commission, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Town of Grand Island, and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper coordinate the event each year.

The 13th Annual Paddles Up Niagara will take place at Beaver Island on Saturday, July 28 from 7 a.m -2 p.m. There is no fee (except the park entry fee) and there will be food, beverages, and more available to purchase.

Big picture—protecting green space
We are still at the very beginning of a 25-year plan to restore and protect the Niagara River Greenway. Since I have been Supervisor, we have secured and protected hundreds of acres of green space on Grand Island. If you include the West River Multi-Use Path (to be completed by fall), the Margery Gallogy Nature Sanctuary (near Assumption Cemetery on Whitehaven), Spicer Creek Wildlife Management Area, and Scenic Woods (over 250 acres of forest and 5 miles of trails near Ransom) into that calculation, the amount of protected space is truly vast.

That means much of Grand Island will stay largely green forever. Sure, we will build some homes, but the days of giving in to bad development is over. We live in one of the most unique locations I’ve ever been to, and the natural beauty is breathtaking. Keeping it green is one of my priorities. We have wetlands, forests, 27 miles of waterfront, two state parks, and nearly 2,000 acres of permanently protected land. Let’s keep it that way.

Supervisor Nate McMurray

About the author


News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

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