Paddlefest: a Cincinnati Tradition

The main attraction is a nine-mile float enabling participants to pass under all six bridges on the river, and its an event worth preserving

January 2018 Feature, News Hannah Martinez Web Exclusive

Registration is open for the 17th annual Ohio River Paddlefest. The main attraction is a nine-mile float enabling participants to pass under all six bridges on the river. According to the event’s organizers, the paddlefest is hailed as “The Nation’s Largest Paddling Celebration.” The event typically attracts about 2000 participants, which is a stunning evolution from when the event first launched in 2001 with 99 paddlers. Tickets are sold online for $40 with boards and boats available to rent. The Paddler’s Party and Boat Dropoff will kick off the festival the evening of August 3rd, and run through August 4th.

Proceeds of Paddlefest help fund the Outdoor Adventure Clubs of Greater Cincinnati. The OACGC is an organization which provides over 3,000 free outdoor activities to urban teens such as kayaking, fishing, camping, ice skating, hiking, biking, etc. It’s fitting that a community float down the Ohio River benefits a nonprofit whose mission is to bring participants “out into nature.”

Brewster Rhoads founded the event as director of the nonprofit organization Green Umbrella. He continued the tradition as the event organizer with Green Umbrella for many years. However, current Paddlefest coordinator, Miriam Wise said that Rhoads shifted the responsibility to the OACGC, seeing it as an opportunity to benefit local teens.

Wise has filled her current role since 2016 and now works with Rhoads to continue attracting paddlers to the event and making it a tradition worth maintaining. However, she got her feet wet as a volunteer for the event.

“I’d actually volunteered at the takeout helping folks get out of the water when they finished the paddle for two years,” recounted Wise. “I didn’t really even have a relationship with Brewster yet, but that all changed within a couple years. I went from having just helped in one small part of the event to coordinating the whole thing.  [It] was a little intimidating because I was taking over the management of something that had been in the works for 15 years-- people have strong and high expectations-- but everything went great.”

When Wise became coordinator for Paddlefest, she oversaw changing the timing from June to August. According to Wise, the two biggest threats to the event are high water and algal blooms. The chances of high water are lower in August than in June.

Additionally, Wise implemented a change from the original route. The current float is a half-mile longer than what was previously charted and Wise says she sees, “growing participation rates and great feedback from our paddlers.” A $10,000 increase in proceeds last year compared to 2016 is a positive indicator that the event has been changed for the better. Wise says she will be “thrilled” if the event attracts 2200 paddlers this year.

Both the Paddler’s Party on Friday night and the put-in for floaters on Saturday will be at the Schmidt Recreation Complex. Free parking and shuttles available at Gilday Riverside Park, where the Finish Line Party will conclude the festivities with music, food trucks and craft beers.

In addition to casual floating there is also an opportunity for paddlers to race. While the put-in for most will be 7 a.m. on August 4th, racers get started at 6:45 a.m. and will receive awards at the Finish Line Festival. The Coast Guard will reopen the Ohio River at noon, resuming all boat traffic.

Photos provided by the Outdoor Adventure Clubs of Greater Cincinnati/Ohio River Paddlefest/Miriam Wise

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