PLATTSBURGH — An old idea to put a whitewater kayak park in downtown Plattsburgh is starting to make waves.
When Ryan Ward has a free moment, he reaches for his kayak. To watch him navigate the Saranac River’s sweeping current when the white-capped water is high is to witness gracefulness in an unlikely setting.
Yes, he makes it look easy.
But the ability to surf eddies and perform Eskimo rolls — a move that rights the kayaker after capsizing — comes with practice; something Ward commits himself to with unabashed fervor. In fact, the 22-year-old’s pursuit of the sport has been so relentless that he has paddled his way from beginner to assistant instructor in only one year.
And the Saranac River has been an integral part of his learning process.
“Last season, I was on the water five or six days a week,” Ward said. “We have an excellent whitewater kayak training ground right in our backyard.”
Ward is one of many local kayakers who support the idea of creating a whitewater kayak park from the South Catherine Street bridge to downtown Plattsburgh, and he thinks that support could also pour in from the community.
“I was kayaking the Saranac with some friends recently, and there were some kids on the shore watching us,” Ward said. “I paddled over and asked them if they would learn to kayak if they had the opportunity to do so, and they said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ I’d say we have people show interest like that at least once a week.”
Steve Maynard, a world-class kayaker and head paddling instructor of Plattsburgh State’s expeditionary studies program, introduced Ward to kayaking, and to the Saranac. Maynard uses the river to teach his students, and thinks the city could use it to promote recreation and tourism as well.
The problem is, in its present state, the river’s water level is usually too low in mid-July and August to be run. The solution, Maynard said, is to pinch the river in a few places to facilitate a consistent flow, and then rearrange some rocks to create features.