Paddle to fight pollution at the Great Wallkill River Race & Festival in New Paltz

Pollution in the 800-square-mile Wallkill watershed – recently classified as an “impaired water body” by the Department of Environmental Conservation – remains a concern since the peak algal blooms of 2015-16 (pictured above). (Photo by Julie O’Connor)

The Great Wallkill River Race and Festival will make its debut in New Paltz on Saturday, September 14 (rain date September 15). “We have all these 5K races, the Turkey Trot, bike races,” says Wallkill River Watershed Alliance volunteer Martha Cheo. “We felt like we needed one on the water.”

Pollution in the 800-square-mile Wallkill watershed – recently classified as an “impaired water body” by the Department of Environmental Conservation – remains a concern since the peak algal blooms of 2015-16. Ninety percent of water samples collected from the Wallkill and its tributaries since 2012 failed to meet US Environmental Protection Agency criteria for safe swimming. Major health hazards include fecal bacteria traceable to humans and Canada geese and toxic cyanobacteria created by algae. The main culprit behind the algal blooms is elevated levels of phosphorus from soil runoff, aging sewage plants and home septic systems. Increased public awareness moves the Wallkill, like the Hudson, closer to the day when it becomes swimmable again. “Our long-term goal is to make this race a triathlon,” Cheo says.

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Kayaks and canoes will set off at 11 a.m. from the Sojourner Truth Park, sprint half a mile downstream to the River-to-Ridge trailhead on Springtown Road, then loop around a buoy and head back upstream to the put-in point. Prizes will be awarded for the first male and female finisher in each age category: 12 to 17, 18 to 25, 26 to 50 and 50+. There will also be two-person boat class, in which one of the racers can be under age 12.

Although part of the event’s “mission” is to get locals to think of the Wallkill as a shared community asset like our trails network, there will be activities that day for non-paddlers as well, all family-friendly. “It’s not just a race,” says Cheo. “There’s going to be a little environmental resource fair. We’ll have some live stream critters,” plus ecology-themed craft activities. Betty and the Baby Boomers will supply spirited live music at the park from 12:30 to 3 p.m., and there will be a food truck on-site. Attendees will learn more about the work of the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance and best practices for caring for the watershed. Paddlers may wish to volunteer for the Alliance’s “boat brigade,” which organizes public paddles to monitor the river’s health by visual inspection and by collecting water samples.

Paddlers can drop off their boats between 9 and 10 a.m., then park off-site. New Paltz Climate Action Coalition volunteers will shuttle race participants to municipal parking lots in electric cars before and after the race. Boats should be in the water by 10 to have everyone ready for an 11 a.m. race start. Competitors also need to preregister at www.wallkillalliance.org/race.

There’s a $25 fee per entrant, which supports Wallkill River Watershed Alliance’s monitoring, education and cleanup efforts. Supporters who won’t be paddling on that day have donated enough funds to sponsor six race participants for whom the $25 fee would constitute a hardship. New Paltz Kayaking is offering a special deeply discounted rate of $10 to rent a kayak for the day, for those who don’t have their own boats. Visit https://npkayaking.com to reserve your craft. For more info on the event, visit www.facebook.com/events/ 2451560205074107.

Great Wallkill River Race & Festival
Saturday, September 14, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Free/$25 to race
Sojourner Truth Park
55 Plains Rd., New Paltz
www.wallkillalliance.org/race
www.facebook.com/events/ 2451560205074107

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