Sitting in a canoe atop a picnic table outside the Kings Center, several kids practiced their strokes, paddling in the air, warning each other “Don’t tip the boat!”
They ramped up their enthusiasm as a school bus drove by East Third Street Tuesday afternoon, shouting and waving their paddles at the driver.
Nathan Depenbrock, with Canoe Kentucky, had stopped by the Kings Center to talk to event organizer Kay Scott about Saturday’s Kentucky River Paddlers Challenge.
“It’s a great chance to see the river at its prime,” Depenbrock said. “I think it’s going to be bigger than last year and draw more people to the river.”
The paddlers challenge is a full day of competitive and recreational kayak and canoe races on the Kentucky River. There will be marathon races, sprints, team challenges, obstacle courses and even a wacky raft contest – as long as the structure can paddle 100 meters, it’s fit for competition.
“We only do two major fundraisers a year,” Scott said about the second annual fundraiser. “It’s very important to our financial stability.”
The Kings Center is a nonprofit community center for at-risk youth ages 5-18. All profits from the paddlers challenge go toward the center.
“This is the first time I’ve worked with inner-city youth like this,” Depenbrock said. “It’s a lot of fun seeing them laughing and smiling. I’m excited about this. I can see us doing more things like this in the future.”
With help from Canoe Kentucky and other sponsors and volunteers, the Kings Center hopes to make the event a big draw, something like paddle events in other river cities.
“Nathan, who is organizing things for us, has reached out to his community, you know, people who are really paddle fanatics,” Scott said, laughing about last year’s event, which lacked some seriousness.
“There might have been 10 or 20 professionals, but the rest of us in the water had not even paddled before,” Scott said. “That was my first race, and it was all I could do to get around the buoy and back.
“It was quite a scene: The blind leading the blind.”
There will be a free kayak and canoe class for non-professionals and several more activities for families both on land and water. A mini carnival, including big water slide, is $5, and food will be available to purchase for lunch and dinner.
One woman who says she feels like a fish out of water with the paddlers challenge is the Kings Center’s new manager, Connie Bolin.
She was hired just a week ago and has had to jump into the planning.
“It’s a little overwhelming especially with it being a paddlers’ thing,” said the Frankfort native who retired from the state after 27 years. “I’m learning a lot and pitching in where I can.”
Bolin, who went to school at Kentucky State University and raised her two kids in Frankfort, says she’s thrilled to work with the Kings Center.
“I love children,” she said. “They’re our future, and several are put in at-risk positions through no fault of their own. It’s going to take us all to raise them.”
KENTUCKY RIVER PADDLERS CHALLENGE
When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: River View Park
For more info or to register: Call 502-875-8687 or go to www.kingscenter.org