Paddlefest is back on the water for its 20th year

Twenty years ago, a few friends dreamed up the idea of getting out on the mighty Ohio with a bunch of other canoeists, kayakers, and paddlers, an idea that turned into Paddlefest.

That year went swimmingly well, with about 275 paddlers launching their craft for a paddle and float down the river. Since then, Paddlefest has turned into what its organizers say is the nation’s largest paddling celebration, with about 2,000 people taking part.

Paddlefest kept its 20-year streak going last year with a virtual event, although, honestly, canoeing and kayaking don’t translate all that well to a digital format.

This year, it is back on the water, and to mark the 20th anniversary, there’s a second, shorter paddling option, and a bigger pre-paddle party.

Paddlefest 2021 will feature a half-distance (about 4.5-mile) paddle for those who’d like to try paddling the Ohio without committing to the full distance. “We hope the shorter distance will appeal to families and others who’d prefer a shorter adventure,” says Miriam Wise, associate director of the nonprofit Adventure Crew, which produces the event.

The expanded Friday night pre-party will feature the Outdoors for All Expo, with exhibits and demos from local parks, outdoor outfitters, adventure experts, and environmentally minded organizations. There’s also music, beer, and food, a voyageur canoe to check out, a hammock lounge, and bikes to test ride. The Friday night party is at Schmidt Recreation Complex in Cincinnati’s East End neighborhood from 4 to 9:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Organizations interested in exhibiting can apply on the event website.

On Saturday, both paddling routes start at Schmidt Recreation Complex, 2944 Humbert Ave. The 4.5-mile paddle finishes at the Public Landing in Downtown Cincinnati, while the 9-mile paddle continues to Gilday Recreation Complex, 3540 Southside Ave. in Riverside. Participants can use their own boats, or rent a kayak or canoe with advance registration.

Those who travel to Gilday can enjoy the Finish Line Festival, with a “Conservation Corridor” of exhibits, plus food trucks and local beer.

The cost for the 9-mile paddle is $55 for adults; $25 for youth 17 and under. The 4.5-mile paddle is $50 for adults, $20 for youth. Prices increase after August 1.

All proceeds benefit Adventure Crew, which provides free outdoor recreation opportunities to city teens in 24 high schools and middle schools in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

“A fun day paddling with us is also a way to share your love of the outdoors with kids who might not otherwise have access to nature,” Wise says.
St. Elizabeth Healthcare will return as the presenting sponsor. Event organizers are currently accepting additional sponsorships.

Registration is open at the Paddlefest website.
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