2011-07-08 / Community

Kayaking Comes To Jamaica Bay

By Daniel Solomon

Kayaks stored in the boathouse at Riis Landing. Kayaks stored in the boathouse at Riis Landing. This summer, expect to see more boats than usual floating in the waters of Jamaica Bay. The National Park Service (NPS), in coordination with the non-profit group Gateway Bike & Boathouse (GBB), is introducing a kayaking program to the Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA), which will be located on Riis Landing and operate out of a building renovated to serve as a boathouse. The program will include 26 kayaks, singles and doubles, bought by the NPS through a $50,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation.

The boathouse will be open and kayaks available for free use in July and August, with regular hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekends and scheduled events on weekdays. First-time kayakers will be able to try out the activity individually, while enthusiasts will be allowed to take organized tours together. Park Rangers and GBB volunteers will be present in the water to protect the safety of boaters and instruct them in the nuances of kayaking.

GBB, which advocates for “bike friendly roads and water access on the peninsula,” has lobbied for the program for years. In 2008, it signed an agreement with the NPS to bring kayaking to Jamaica Bay, but the deal soon fell through, nixed by the GNRA’s then superintendent. By the summer of 2009, things were beginning to look up again. The NPS had received the Coca-Cola grant, a successful kayaking program had been started in Canarsie, and new leadership at the GNRA was more willing to bring boating to Rockaway. Over the next two years, the non-profit worked to find a suitable site, settling on Riis Landing after considering the Belle Harbor Yacht Club, and handle the logistics associated with the program, which included everything from shipping the kayaks to readying a structure at the Landing to be used as a boathouse. GBB volunteers, all of whom are from the community, were trained on June 30 by Park Ranger John Daskalakis, head of the NPS’s kayaking program in Canarsie. Among other topics, Daskalakis discussed safety procedures, paddling techniques, tidal patterns, and boat check-out rules with the volunteers. People who give their time to the project will enjoy the privilege of using the kayaks individually when they are available. However, due to the small size of the dock, no one will be permitted to launch private boats from Riis Landing.

Still, many are excited for the program’s kick-off. Don Teahan, a volunteer who attended the training session, said he thought it was “a great thing for Rockaway to have access to the bay.” “Growing up in Rockaway,” he said, “we always spent time in the ocean but because of the bay wall I think we forget what a great resource we have right out our back door.”

Echoing that sentiment, Rick Horan, GBB’s founder, said he was “tremendously excited that we have a facility in Rockaway that allows people to grab a boat and enjoy the bay.” Nevertheless, he characterized the kayaking program as “just a first step,” detailing plans to operate, in cooperation with the New York City Parks Department, a boathouse on the bayfront at Beach 88 Street and envisioning a Rockaway in which non-motorized boats have “free rein on bay and beach.”

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