Kayaks – and paddleboards – filled the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers in record numbers last weekend during the 6th Annual Parkersburg Paddlefest.

After last year’s event was canceled due to high waters, there was some concern that the event might have lost some of its momentum, said Mark Lewis, director of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau which organizes and hosts the event. This was not the case, with 150 paddlers participating in Friday evening’s Glow Paddle, twice the number of participants in 2017, and increased participation across the board.

Paddlers enjoying Saturday's afternoon paddle to Blennerhassett Island.
Paddlers enjoying Saturday’s afternoon paddle to Blennerhassett Island.

“We enjoyed a spectacular weekend this year,” said Lewis, “I could not be more pleased with the turnout.”

Lewis attributes some of the event’s success to Avery West, who recently joined the Greater Parkersburg CVB as a Marketing Assistant and engaged participants over the weekend through social media.

“The turnout was incredible, especially for the Glow Paddle on Friday night,” said West. “We had the perfect trio of imagery, with the beautiful sunset, the full moon, lighted kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. The energy was high and participants were there to enjoy the scenery on the water – it was a perfect weekend.”

Volunteers helping paddlers launch.
Volunteers helping paddlers launch at Point Park.

It was a busy weekend for Parkersburg, which also hosted Riverfest at Point Park and Downtown PKB’s Downtown Throwdown BBQ and Brew Fest. While Downtown Throwdown began after Paddlefest’s main event on Saturday, Lewis said the CVB coordinated with Riverfest to successfully share the riverfront over the weekend. Festival-goers were able to participate in all of the planned festivities and took advantage of their time in town to visit local shops and restaurants.

“On Friday night, we had folks drop off their kayaks early so that they could head downtown to grab dinner. We heard from the Parkersburg Brewing Co., Mango Latin Bistro, and Brunello that they saw an increase in sales that evening from Paddlefest participants,” said Lewis.

Paddlers ready for Friday night's Glow Paddle.
Paddlers ready for Friday night’s Glow Paddle.

CaSandra Winter and her mother participated in the night paddle Friday evening, their first experience kayaking at nightfall. “I loved how everyone participated in decorating their boats, themselves, and even their pets,” she said. “We are already anxiously waiting to hear dates to be announced for next year’s paddle. We have several friends, some even out of state, who would love to attend.”

150 paddlers participated in this year's Glow Paddle.
150 paddlers participated in this year’s Glow Paddle.

Attending the event for the first time, Parkersburg residents Lucas Martin and Tracey Sartor participated in all three of the festival’s paddling events. “We had a great time, all three events were awesome,” said Martin. “Of course, the glow paddle with the full moon on a Friday the 13th made for a nice paddle up the river. Seeing all the work that people put into their boats was amazing, there were quite a few with interesting themes.”

Volunteers were on site to help paddlers get in and out of the water Friday night.
Volunteers were on site to help paddlers get in and out of the water Friday night.

Lewis said paddlers came in from Morgantown, Charleston, Cincinnati, and beyond to enjoy the weekend in Parkersburg. “Having the barge traffic stopped makes people more comfortable about being out on a big river like the Ohio,” he said. The river was closed to commercial traffic for Saturday’s afternoon paddle between Point Park and Blennerhassett Island. Participants were able to leisurely paddle to the island and spend a few hours exploring.

Martin and Sartor said the weather was perfect for paddling to the Island on Saturday. Although they did not partake in the Temple Challenge or Yoga activities, Martin said they enjoyed “strolling around the island, absorbing the history, and petting some horses and mules.”

Paddlers landed at Blennerhassett Island to explore on Saturday.
Paddlers landed at Blennerhassett Island to explore on Saturday.

On Sunday, Lewis led a farewell paddle at North Bend State Park. The lake, located about 40 minutes east of Parkersburg, is less than twenty years old and still has lots of standing trees in the water which have become a habitat for what might be the largest congregation of red-headed woodpeckers in the United States. “The group was smaller on Sunday,” said Martin, “Mark Lewis guided our group and helped us spot birds which was so much fun. We were able to casually paddle and make new friends.” All in all, Martin said he paddled around 12.5 miles over the weekend, “and I would do it all over again.”

Lewis said he is grateful for the many partners that come together to make Paddlefest successful, including the City of Parkersburg and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. “We also have a terrific team of volunteers, including those who volunteered their private motorboats to help slow down private boat traffic and protect the paddling area.”

While three consecutive days of perfect weather are never guaranteed, Parkersburg looks forward to another great Paddlefest in 2020.