KINGSTON — Paul Bracey squeezed water from his gloves and hiked up the Nesbitt Park boat launch, a double-bladed boat paddle tucked under his arm. The sun-baked kayaker just completed his first 4.5-hour, 14-mile kayak trek down the Susquehanna River accompanied by about 200 other expert and beginner boaters.
Bracey and his girlfriend rowed in the signature river ride during the 14th annual Wyoming Valley RiverFest, a three-day event celebrating the Susquehanna.
“I’m not a water guy, so you’d be surprised to see me out here doing this,” Bracey said, nodding toward the river.
The computer technician from Wilkes-Barre paddled down from the Falls Township boat launch with his girlfriend. He had tackled a shorter kayak ride last year, heading from Kingston to Shickshinny, and said he wanted to try something a little bit more challenging this year.
Workers from Susquehanna River Tours and Endless Mountain Outfitters helped grinning kayakers haul their boats up the steep launch ramp.
David Buck, owner of Endless Mountain in Sugar Run, stood at the top of the launch counting boats as they returned to land. Buck said he has been running the RiverFest treks for 10 years and, this year, rented out about 60 kayaks for Saturday’s run.
The business owner said he leads excursions of all types, with one recent 100-mile sojourn that lasted four days.
“We mostly ride the Susquehanna,” Buck said. “It’s right there. We live on it. We work on it.”
Emily Kinsey, an experienced kayaker who rides the Lehigh River, said that when the 200 boats cast off in Falls, it was a little nerve-wracking with everyone packed together, but as boaters spread out, she felt more at ease.
“There were times it felt like you were the only boat in the water,” Emily said.
Her sister, Rebecca Kinsey, said she liked the fresh perspective.
“It was neat being on the river. Usually you see the surroundings from the roads,” Rebecca said. “It was neat to get a different perspective.”
State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources forester Walter Fayocavitz said DCNR has cut a walking trail and set up campsites and picnic areas on one of the islands near Pittston. The boaters spoke excitedly about the island, saying it was fun to step onto the beach most see only from the mainland.
Up in the park, food vendors served up carnival fixin’s while the non-boating crowd visited displays about the the river’s biology.
Brian Oram from B.F. Environmental, an water inspection company, used an interactive model to show how pollution moves through the water table, and children got a close-up look at some of the Susquehanna’s native insects at at Penn State University display table. They looked wide-eyed at the giant winged cicada, and even more so at the cicada killer wasp that eats it.