The number of recreational paddlers on local waterways has increased since the onset of COVID-19.
Last weekend those numbers were on another level.
Competitors from all over were in Warren County Thursday through Sunday to compete in the American Canoe and Kayak Association (USCA) National Championships.
The marathon course followed the Allegheny River from the downstream waters of the Kinzua Dam to Betts Park, with two sections upstream for most paddlers.
The community has grown used to seeing the event on a regular basis – Warren County has hosted the event eight times since 2003 – but having them here in 2021 was a last minute situation.
“It was a stampede” The Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry chamber operations and tourism director, John Papalia said. “The USCA contacted us at the last minute to ask if we could host the event.”
The original hosts had issues with COVID-19 and scheduling issues and had to back down.
Hosting the event more than any other location allowed Papalia – and everyone involved in making the event successful – to put together a successful event quickly.
“We like to have the paddlers in town”, he said. “It’s great for our community.
Thanks to the event, hundreds of men, women and children spent time in the county. Papalia said a marathon runner on Friday was 99 years old.
There were also former Olympians in town for the event.
“We started to make phone calls” he said. “There are a lot of pieces that need to be in place. “
The US Army Corps of Engineers at Kinzua Dam is one of the main rooms and one of the first calls.
“The army corps worked wonderfully with us, as always” said Papalie. “They give us a little boost of water if we need it or hold it back if we need it.”
With unusually high precipitation this summer, Papalia feared the Corps of Engineers might not be able to hold back enough water to keep the river in the ideal zone for the event.
As it turns out, the Corps tackled the opposite situation. The river was low – “they were able to give us a little relaxation to raise it”, said Papalie. “It really helps a lot. “
There is only one stretch of the river that is particularly low, even with the help of the Kinzua Dam.
Flame rapids near the United Refining torch often put paddlers in the water.
Warren Town Fire Rescue and Glade Swiftwater Rescue Volunteer Fire crews were available to monitor this area and make sure everyone was safe, Papalia said.
Many volunteers are needed to manage registrations, monitor buoy turns and start and finish lines, and just make sure everything goes smoothly. Some of these volunteers are now experts who keep coming back time after time.
Thank you to everyone who came together to help,”Papalia said. “We had a wonderful response from volunteers who stepped up to make this happen. John Kersey does a wonderful job helping us save time.
While most of the competitors come from out of town, many are familiar with the marathon route.
“I like it to be here” said Paul Gruber of the competitive Allegheny River paddlers. “I love seeing all these people from everywhere.”
He said the number of competitors was down from some past events, but that’s not surprisingly due to COVID.
Gruber hopes the events will spark interest in the sport. Anyone who wishes to use the river for more than a float is encouraged to reach out to the club.
Teresa Stout is originally from Brookville, but has family ties to Warren and trains on this stretch of the Allegheny. “It’s really exciting,” she said. “It’s a boost to know that you are training for the national championships on the same river.”
“We are really proud of the river that we have”, she said. “It makes you proud to hear people say how great the river is. “
On Friday, Stout was working as an observer in the upstream part of the race at Shipmans Eddy. She took part in the marathons on Saturday and Sunday.
The competition is not the only aspect of the event.
“It’s like a family reunion” Stout, who is vice president of USCA and also represents the Pennsylvania Association of Canoeing and Kayaking (PACK), said. “It’s a bunch of people I only see once or twice a year.”
“It’s a tight-knit organization”, she said. “No matter where you are from, we all love to paddle.”