More Boating, More Fishing, More Opportunity
Can you canoe?
You can, it’s true.
Step in and drop.
Or sit on top.
We’ll borrow a little Dr. Seuss rhyming to reinforce his theme that there’s a place and a way for everybody.
Riverbend Park in Great Falls has provided recreational programming for children and adults along the banks of the Potomac River for decades. For the past five years, the park has offered canoe and kayak tours, fishing programs, water-based scout merit badges, and summer day camps that include boating and fishing. In 2014, Riverbend created more river opportunities by implementing ideas that made the river accessible to more people. These changes promote accessibility, diversity, more environmental education and outdoor recreation.
One year earlier, Riverbend Park and the Park Authority’s Americans With Disabilities Act coordinators sought partners for new adapted programming ideas. Along with hiking, the park’s most popular recreational activities are fishing and boating on the Potomac River. At the time, many of the Park Authority’s adaptive programs did not focus on fishing or boating. Branching into outdoor recreation would provide quality outdoor recreation opportunities for persons with disabilities.
The first order of business was to acquire less restrictive and more accessible sit-on-top kayaks that offered ease of access. Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for park visitor needs and for the river setting. They are open-air and allow for a variety of body types to enter and exit with relative ease. The park incorporated the new kayaks into new adapted programs. Funding for the new fleet of sit-on-top kayaks and fishing gear was provided by a pair of Take Me Fishing grants through the National Recreation and Park Association. The two grants totaling $10,000 provided Riverbend the jump start to purchase kayaks and fishing rods equipped with push button reels that generally are easier to cast.
To promote these exciting new programs, Riverbend staff attended an adapted recreation fair for individuals with disabilities hosted by Therapeutic Recreation Services of Fairfax County. A little marketing boosted interest and tossed away existing misperceptions that outdoor, riverfront and water-oriented recreation was unavailable and inaccessible for the disabled community.
The next step was an Adapted Family Day Open House at Riverbend. Families had the opportunity to kayak, fish, and hike with an instructor. When the actual programs began in the summer of 2014, the first four-week Adapted Kayaking program for ages 8 to 21 years filled seven of its eight openings. The class provided an opportunity for participants and their families to paddle single or tandem two-persons kayaks while learning different strokes and basic water safety on the Potomac River. By the end of the class, many of the participants were paddling single kayaks with little or no help. The class activities were highlighted by a 1.5-mile float trip down the Potomac River through riffles and gentle rapids.
That fall, the park hosted its first Riverside Connections class for 11-to-21 year-olds. It was designed as a four-week introductory class into outdoor recreation: hiking, fishing, and kayaking. The class filled. The participants were able to hike to see Great Falls at Riverbend’s downstream neighbor, Great Falls National Park. They caught and released fish and paddled on the river. Two brothers who took part said they wished the class could meet every Saturday morning.
The adapted programs use volunteers and family members to establish an effective guide-to-student ratio and increase the time students are engaged in activity. Each student has the opportunity to work with both tandem kayaks and single kayaks in order to gain the highest level of independence. The kayaks are used for both classes and rentals, which means skills learned in class can be used and reinforced when families rent kayaks at Riverbend outside of class time.
After those first experiences with adapted programming in 2014, Riverbend planned and offered more programs that filled. The current adapted programs are:
- Riverside Connections: A four-week class that provides an introduction to outdoor recreation with hiking, kayaking, and fishing
- Adapted Kayaking: A four-week class that provides instruction and safety for kayaking on the Potomac River while building paddling skills
- Adapted Potomac Adventures Summer Camp (8-12 years old & 13-21 years old): A week-long camp that provides outdoor adventures, including kayaking, fishing, hiking, and tubing
An important part of the Park Authority’s mission is to provide opportunities for recreation and to create new, enriching experiences for participants. These programs do just that. They also support a diverse community need by providing access to a family activity in a structured environment. Adapted Kayaking is intended to teach basic kayaking skills, such as paddling and steering, to participants and their families. The ultimate goal is to allow families to support each other independently both at Riverbend and other recreation locations. It increases the opportunities for families to recreate together both in and outside of Fairfax County parks.
In an opportunity rich landscape such as Fairfax County, the Park Authority is poised to find other opportunities for inclusion and access for everyone who loves to recreate! Who knows what will be possible next year?