Friday, May 3 update: the Regatta has been postponed to Sunday, June 23 due to inclement weather forecast this weekend.
The New Paltz Regatta returns for its 64th iteration on Sunday, May 5. With any luck, the sun will shine for the community get-together that organizing committee member Theresa Fall notes is the largest free event held in New Paltz every year. “The Regatta is just about having fun,” she adds. “People go to a lot of effort to make their boats, and when you look around that day, you see everybody is happy, and that’s all ages; everyone is just having a good time together.”
Organizers of the Regatta have taken some flak in recent years for promoting an event that involves people venturing out on the Wallkill River in flimsy watercraft, citing the documented pollution in the waters as a reason for staying away. “But shying away from the river, or ignoring it, ignores the need to do something about the polluted waters,” says Fall. “And we do tell people how to be safe going onto the river. But the Regatta is about celebrating the Wallkill and we’re here to show what its full potential is.”
The Regatta organizing committee now partners with Riverkeeper and the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance to educate the public about the condition of the river and support volunteer efforts to clean it up. In a “point of view” piece in last week’s New Paltz Times, members of the committee wrote that by “celebrating the community’s connection to the water and showcasing what a recreational resource the Wallkill can be, the New Paltz Regatta is a powerful tool for improving the river.” They likened the hazards of going out onto its waters as something akin to the way people still hike in the woods, despite the dangers of getting Lyme disease; it’s all about taking the proper precautions.
The first New Paltz Regatta was held on May 15, 1955, initiated by a group of SUNY New Paltz students in the Delta Kappa fraternity. They started the tradition of creating homemade watercraft concocted from materials at hand and parading the vessels down Main Street before launching them into the Wallkill at the boat launch on Plains Road, at that time known simply as “the old swimming hole.” It’s said that nearly 1,000 students and town residents lined both banks of the Wallkill River to watch the spectacle as the homemade boats floundered downstream a quarter mile, struggling to make the finish line at the Route 299 bridge (now the Carmine Liberta Bridge).
The Regatta has been held almost every year since then with generous sponsorship from area businesses that keep the event self-sustaining. So many businesses, in fact, donated funds to help keep the Regatta alive this year, says Fall, that they couldn’t fit all their names on the back of the official event t-shirt. The primary sponsors, at the “gold” level, are the Woodcrest Bruderhof community, SUNY New Paltz, The New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce and the new owners of the Gilded Otter restaurant, Clemson Brothers Brewery at the Gilded Otter.
The Regatta kicks off on Sunday, May 5 at noon with live music by Ratboy, Jr. and Yard Sale on the lawn of the Otter. Kids can enjoy a free bouncy house run by the New Paltz Youth Program and free face-painting by the Bruderhof Woodcrest community.
Meanwhile, registration starts at noon at Village Hall for those entering the competition. The cost is $25 per boat. The parade kicks off from that location at 1 p.m., with the pageantry moving down Plattekill Avenue, turning left onto Main Street and ending up at the Sojourner Truth Park boat launch on Plains Road for the launch into the Wallkill at 2 p.m. The “rubber ducky race” that has been a part of the event in years past will not be held this year.
All vessels must be “raft-style” — no motors allowed — and handcrafted by the participants. Those under age 18 need written parental permission to participate. And while the rules allow the re-use of previous Regatta boat bases, there must be a brand new theme employed. Past Regattas have had Mardi Gras-themed vessels, pirate boats, a Ghostbusters team and a tropical luau raft. A few years back, a group of middle school students won the “green” award for a raft made of empty plastic bottles tied together. Animals aren’t allowed on the vessels and neither is alcohol.
The organizers of the event never know exactly who will show up until the day of the event, says Fall, but there are generally between eight and 20 vessels participating.
Prize categories this year are: Best in Show, Most Creative, Most Theatrical, the Green Award, Funniest, Fastest, and Most Likely to Sink. Judges will include Jen Roe, Chamber of Commerce president, and New Paltz Middle School Principal Ann Sheldon and the school’s assistant principal, Daniel Glenn.
For more information, visit http://www.newpaltzregatta.com/.