A perfect late summer morning drew participants from throughout the Blackstone Valley to Wallum Lake for the first of this season’s Adaptive Kayaking opportunities at Douglas State Park.
Volunteers came from the Blackstone Valley Paddler’s Club, the Rhode Island Canoe and Kayak Association (RICKA), and Millbury Credit Union.
Blackstone Heritage Corridor Staff and VIPs (volunteers in the Park) were supported by the staff from of All Out Adventures, (AOA)
who brought a trailer full of kayaks and equipment. AOA staff also brought their extensive expertise working with folks of many abilities in sundry outdoor experiences. Funding was provided by a grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, (NNLM) New England Region.
Recreational kayaks are a wonderful modern invention. No whitewater class four rapids for those of us who enjoy these boats, which some may consider to be tame, but offer to opportunity to “mess about in boats” in ponds or late summer rivers. These boats offer much great stability, ease of handling, and are much simpler to steer than canoes and other watercraft.
The morning started out cool and overcast, perfect for some of us who do not do so well in the heat! Volunteers hauled kayaks from the rack of boats that arrived, and brought them to the boat ramp, ready to slide into Wallum Lake.
Life jackets are not only required by the state when boating at Wallum Lake, AOA is vigilant about fitting each participant in a well-fitted flotation vest. As I got my vest fitted, Karen, AOA staff member, pointed out how helpful the fitted vest is for support staff, as they assist paddlers into and out of the boats. She also grabbed a cooler and plopped it next to a kayak. “Here is our “fancy” adaptive equipment to help assist clients into and out of the boats,” she said with a smile. “I like to show people how to use what they have to help make these opportunities more accessible.”
I love to paddle, but there’s those pesky transitions…. My weak right leg has created a real challenge for getting me safely into and out of kayaks in the past. But this time, surrounded by knowledgeable and respectful staff, I got only the assistance needed, no more, no less, and eased into the front of the tandem kayak. My paddling partner, Frank, slid into the back seat, got us both settled with paddles, then we gathered in a circle (more or less) to be clear about how the group would travel: one lead paddler, one “sweep” (following at the back) and one paddling along the flank of the group.
The cool, calm day meant we dealt with no headwind, no waves to speak of, and were free to simply glide in the water to explore the shoreline of the lake. Alas, the blueberry bushes that overhung the water all along the shore had been picked over before us. No berries for hungry travelers this day.
Rocks just under the surface of the water, along with long-ago fallen trees lay waiting to challenge boaters, but we moved slowly, and were easily able to avoid these water hazards. Frank and I chatted as we paddled, learning about places we had each traveled, and talking about other places to paddle. I paddled, and Frank carefully kept his paddle in time with mine, steering the boat deftly around the minor hazards we encountered.
We observed other paddlers “learning the ropes” as it were, figuring out how to avoid other paddlers, while still managing to stay with the group. By the time we returned, every paddler looked like a pro (well, the bar is pretty low in recreational kayaking, but still). The hour and a half we were out allowed for some exploring, some chatting, and some simple floating, experiencing the joys of feeling nearly weightless.
Because of the grant money provided by NNLM, the Heritage Corridor will do this all over again in September, on Tuesday, the 10th, Saturday the 14th, and Tuesday the 17th, all starting at 9:45AM at Wallum Lake, Douglas State Park boat ramp. Opportunities are available for both volunteers and participants (those who need, for any reason, assistance to be able to participate in kayaking.) Potential volunteers should contact the Heritage Corridor, Participants are required to register with All Out Adventures (AOA). Contact them by phone (413) 584-2052 or register on their website. Here’s a list of all their adaptive programs coming up.
Heritage Corridor Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Buchanan reflected about the ongoing relationship the Heritage Corridor has forged with AOA. First with the joint adaptive biking program offered in the Blackstone valley, and now with kayaks. She noted at the end of the first day, “It was so nice to have AOA return with kayaks, like a good friend coming back to visit and play!!! And Mother Nature once again played a big part in the success of the day!”
Happy trails, and happy paddling too!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.