By Francesca Krempa
Looking for adventure on a budget? The Ausable River Association has got you covered.
Starting this month, the organization will offer a series of free guided community trips, like paddling and hiking, in areas around the Ausable watershed. All programs have been designed with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind and are subject to change as New York State guidelines evolve.
“We are excited to be offering these free summer programs. It’s a great opportunity to experience the beauty of our watershed,” Executive Director Kelley Tucker said in a recent release.
The association aims to advocate for the watershed through stewardship, conservation and recreation. This is the second year the organization will provide these trips as a way to connect the community to nature.
Last summer, guests could learn basic canoe skills along the Ausable Paddling Nature Trail at Lake Everest or enjoy a guided hike up to the scenic Copperas and Owen Ponds. Similar sessions will be available this year, in addition to new, interpretative experiences that are designed to educate and engage participants, including a sensory, river walking experience down the Ausable, a bat and moth research night, and a Leave No Trace tips and tricks workshop.
“It’s a little bit more than recreation and it’s a little bit more than education,” said Tyler Merriam, the association’s donor outreach associate. “We’re combining the two pieces and hopefully building a deeper connection to the resource and to the river.”
AsRA’s 2020 Guided River Tour Schedule
Saturday, August 8: Riverwalking Experience, 8:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Saturday, August 15: Leave No Track Tricks and Tips, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 22: Moth and Bat Research Night, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 29: Paddle on Lake Everest to Wildlife Refuge, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 12: Paddle on Lake Everest, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 26: Hike at Asgaard Farm, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 3: Hike to Owen and Copperas Ponds, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 10: Birding Hike at Ausable Marsh, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Merriam explained that these tours are also a low-impact, inclusive way to get more people responsibly enjoying the watershed. Kayak and canoe rentals throughout the park can be expensive, and while hiking is free, not everyone has the resources to find hidden trails. These free programs, which are funded by local educational grants and private donors, offer a more equitable way to enjoy the outdoors.
“We want everybody to be able to participate, regardless of any kind of socio-demographic or economic restraints,” Merriam said.
Like most attractions, the group is aware of the threat of COVID-19 and is dedicated to making their guests feel “as comfortable and safe as possible.” To mitigate the risks of the virus, each session is capped off at eight participants per trip, and registration in advance is required. All equipment will be sanitized prior to guest’s arrival and social distance guidelines will be enforced during the durations of the trips.
Regardless, the organization is optimistic about this summer’s schedule.
“People really are yearning for social connection, even if it is a distance fashion,” Merriam said. He considers it more important than ever to give people a way to safely get outside while increasing stewardship and encouraging low-impact recreation.
“Helping people protect the resource as they enjoy it is a pretty important aspect to us, and I think the summer paddle, or the summer guided tours, highlight that pretty well.”
The Ausable River Association’s free, guided programs will occur on weekends beginning Aug. 8 and ending on Oct. 10. To see full trip details, read COVID-19 safety protocols, and register, visit https://www.ausableriver.org/events/river-tours.