Since the spring, something new has come to the boat launch at Sojourner Truth Park in New Paltz — kayak and canoe rentals. Adventurous souls and those prepared to capsize and spill into the water have already taken notice — they’re down by the Wallkill River ready to make waves to Rosendale.
Craig Chapman, 28, is a native New Paltzian and the man behind the boat rental service. On Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., he’s near the shore and manning a tall rack of boats. Kayakers and canoers are outfitted with life jackets and paddles, and they’ll make a run from New Paltz to the boat launch off of Springtown Road in Rosendale.
Altogether it takes about two hours to complete the nearly 5-mile run. But it’s not the kind of thing that should turn off newbies.
“Two hours is like the perfect amount of time for a novice. You don’t have to paddle too hard. You just kind of float down the river,” Chapman explained. “I mean, 65-, 75-year-old women have done it and 12-year-old kids have done it — all right within that two-hour mark.”
Chapman himself is a sports fan. He helps coach and organize youth basketball locally, and he’s almost always outside biking or running. To him, it didn’t make sense that a town filled with climbers, athletes and cyclists wouldn’t want a chance to use the river for exercise.
“Cinco de Mayo was the first time I put boats out in the water,” he said. “It’s a great river, a great town — and an active town, or village — you would think this would go over really well. And so far, people have been loving it. They’re really, really excited about it.”
He added: “The more I thought about this, the more I realized this was just a necessity for New Paltz.”
Chapman’s company is known as New Paltz Kayaking Tours. So far, only self-guided tours of the river are available — you rent the kayak or canoe, and you meet your ride back in Rosendale. But Chapman said he’s working to make good on the name by getting his certification to conduct guided tours.
The history of the Wallkill River is a draw to Chapman, who is a former Historical Huguenot Street tour guide. It was part of what gave him the idea to start the rental and tour service.
“I thought, ‘Man, it’d be cool to have people go down the river and learn a little history on the river.’ Obviously, this is the reason that people settled here originally,” he said.
The river has a long tie with both Native Americans and European settlers. Floods along the banks of the Wallkill deposit silt, making nearby fields ripe as farm land — a feature that neither the tribesmen nor the Huguenots could resist.
But being a steward of Sojourner Truth Park and the river is also important to Chapman. He said he’ll advocate to keep the Wallkill clean and the bridge spanning it repaired. Since he’s at the park all day, he’s also trying to be a welcoming and friendly addition there by creating a sense of community. Chapman said he routinely assists other boaters by helping them lift their canoes to the car roof.
“I’m just trying to enhance this park and community by being down here,” he said. “Anybody needs help, they can just ask.”
As for the future, the kayak man is looking at expanding to open a route running from Gardiner to New Paltz — a more challenging, almost 7-mile span that would include some rapids.
People who’d like to paddle the Wallkill should plan on bringing drinking water, sun block and bug spray. Since there is a chance that the boat might tip, kayakers and canoers should dress in clothes that they don’t mind getting wet.
Rates for a kayak rental are $35. Canoe rentals are $55. And a trip in the special “tandem,” two-seater kayak costs $70. New Paltz Kayaking Tours plans to offer rides until September or October.
“I’m hoping to go as long as the weather is nice,” he said.
For more information, head to www.npkt.net or call Chapman at 594-6353.