Riverbend Park’s Adapted Kayaking Program

Kayaking at Riverbend Park

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.

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkOne 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.

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkThe 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

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkAn 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?




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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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