Here’s the good news: The New Paltz Regatta will be back on Sunday, May 7, launching from Sojourner Truth Park. While nobody seems to have kept track of the how-many-th Regatta this will be, on account of its long hiatus at the tail end of the 20th century, we do know that the event will be marking its 62nd anniversary in 2017. Theoretically, it could now qualify for many senior discounts. More importantly, it certainly qualifies as a venerable Paltzonian tradition, if not an institution.
The bad news, of course, is the release of the recent report by Riverkeeper, documenting what people living along its shores have long suspected: The Wallkill River is not safe for swimming or wading. As the environmental organization’s Water Quality Program director, Dan Shapley, points out in a March 28 letter expressing Riverkeeper’s support for the continuation of the Regatta, this fact is nothing new; we simply now have ample hard data supporting it. “The conditions we have observed in the Wallkill [since 2012] are likely to have been similar to the conditions present in past years,” Shapley writes.
Riverkeeper, and the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance of which it is an active member, nonetheless are encouraging the community to carry on with the event, with boaters making every reasonable effort to minimize contact with the Enterococcus-contaminated water. “We believe that Regatta participants should understand what is known about the risks of immersing themselves in or ingesting the water,” the letter continues. That means no more horsing around, trying to get opponents’ rivercraft to capsize, as was popular in the Regatta’s early days as a fraternity stunt.
Shapley compares avoiding the Regatta altogether to giving up hiking in the woods simply because we know that some of the deer ticks there carry Lyme disease. “By celebrating the community’s connection to the water and showing what a recreational resource the Wallkill can be, the New Paltz Regatta is a powerful tool for improving the river,” he avers.
Theresa Fall of the Water Street Market, who chairs the committee organizing the event, echoes that position that familiarity breeds advocacy: “If we walk away from the river, it won’t get cleaned up,” she tells the New Paltz Times. “We should draw attention to the river, and not turn our backs on it.” Regatta promotional materials tout the event as “the biggest free annual event in New Paltz” and “a symbol of community, eccentricity and the welcoming of the summer months here in our beautiful Hudson Valley!”
Kathy Cartagena, the recently retired longtime director of Family of New Paltz, remains another active member of the committee. And for the tenth year running, Regatta 2017 will include a fundraising component for Family: the Rubber Duck Race, which gets underway around 1:30 or 2 p.m. For a price of $5 per duck or $20 for a Quack Pack of five, supporters can cheer on their numbered duckie to be the first to cross the Finish Line under the Carmine Liberta Bridge.
Speaking of which, this will be the first Regatta to end in the shadow of the brand-new replacement bridge, which was completed in October 2016. It begins, however, with a parade of competing watercraft trundling on wheels down Plattekill Avenue from the Village Firehouse, beginning at 1 p.m. Before noon, late registrants will be able to sign up at village hall to compete in the Regatta — with volunteer notaries on hand, since you’ll need to sign a waiver promising not to sue the organizers or the municipality if you get cooties from contact with Wallkill River water.
The line of march will turn left on Main Street, left again on Water Street and proceed to the boat launch site, located where Water Street adjoins Plains Road. Boat crews will toss candy into the crowds of spectators like at the Mardi Gras, Fall promises. At Sojourner Truth Park, chaos typically reigns for a while as teams of volunteers coordinate the unloading and launching of the competing boats. “Getting the boats off the trailers and into the water is a lot of work,” says Fall.
Somewhere between 2 and 2:30 p.m., the Regatta proper should get started. Provided the handmade crafts are riverworthy enough to stay afloat until all are in the water, entry position won’t count for much, as this isn’t really a race. There is a prize category for Fastest, yes; but also for Funniest, Most Likely to Sink, Most Creative, Most Theatrical, Best in Show and a Green Award – like the Artists’ Soapbox Derby in Kingston, only wetter. “It’s not really about how fast you get there,” says Fall. “It’s all the other things.”
Once all the contenders have gotten past the Finish Line (or foundered in the attempt), the focus of the fun shifts to lower Main Street, on the lawn of the Gilded Otter and in front of La Stazione. There will be family-friendly live music by Yard Sale and Ratboy, Jr., a bouncy house and face-painting by volunteers from the Woodcrest Bruderhof.
Registration for boats to compete costs $25 each, and can be done online at www.newpaltzregatta.com. Payments by check should be made out to the New Paltz Community Foundation. Additional information is available at www.facebook.com/events/259499847808392.