Beaver Watershed Alliance (the Alliance) recently completed a series of paddling trips with area youth. The trip was one of four paddling day-trips that the Alliance held, in partnership with Pack Rat Outdoor Center, through the Northwest Arkansas Youth Paddling Days program. This program was funded by a grant received earlier this year through the nonprofit Outdoor Nation, whose mission is to increase and sustain outdoor recreation among youth and millennials.
The Paddle Nation Project Grant specifically aims to increase paddle-sport participation among this generation. The four trips were taken in June, with participants from the Youth Bridge transitional housing program, the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, and a group of fifth-grade girls from West Fork. Participants paddled in canoes on a five or eight mile float, which included a stop for a picnic lunch and swim in the river. Along the way, the participants learned about the history and function of Beaver Dam, animals that reside in and near the river, and “Leave No Trace” principles for disposing of waste and minimizing disturbance to the environment.
The day started in Fayetteville, taking head counts and answering questions coming from 10-year-old kids about how many different types of snakes lived near the river and whether or not we thought there might be some snake sightings on our trip. The day ended a few miles below Beaver Dam with a chilling swim in 50 degree water, the kids shrieking and smiling as they jumped into the river. In between was a mix of commotion, story-telling, and serenity. This was our first trip with the Yvonne Richardson Community Center as part of the Northwest Arkansas Youth Paddling Days. We put 20 kids, aged 10 to 12 years old, in canoes for a five mile paddling trip on the White River. Most of these youth had never stepped foot in a canoe before, and chaos ensued upon launching into the river as they were getting their bearings. However, paddling came naturally to many of them, challenging the trip leaders to keep up with them as they paddled vigorously. And for the kids who didn’t quite understand the technique at first, dedicated trip leaders from the Alliance and Pack Rat Outdoor Center patiently guided them, and at times, towed them along the way. Although there were the occasional complaints from the participants that they were hungry, tired, or hot during the trip, the kids had only positive things to say about the trip as they rode back to Fayetteville in Yvonne Richardson Community Center (YRCC) vans.
Thomas further stated, “The experience with the youth was very moving. Paddling with an 8-year-old girl who had never been in a canoe before and watching how quickly she caught on – so much so, that she even wanted to paddle by herself for a while to see how far she could take us – was very inspiring. She was a natural! Listening to a poem that a girl recited on the spot about how much water means to her because it’s peaceful, provides a place for an abundance of creatures to live, and sustains life on Earth, was another beautiful moment from our trip. The event also gave us a chance to talk with participants on a one-on-one basis about the river, watersheds, and what takes place upstream and downstream of where we were paddling.”
John Pennington, Executive Director for the Alliance adds: “More than 60 participants took part in the 4 paddling trips, and “river time” amounted to more than 20 hours for those involved, whether participant or instructor. Instrumental to the success of the ventures were Outdoor Nation for providing funding, Pack Rat Outdoor Center for all their support and participation, and Black Jack Adventure for working with the Alliance to ensure as many participants as possible. Great partners in water quality outreach, make achieving the Alliance’s water quality education and conservation goals attainable, I can’t thank our partners enough for their support.”
For more information on the Alliance, visit www.beaverwatershedalliance.org. Or contact John Pennington at 479.970.3550.