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Safe Paddling In The Days of COVID-19

With rivers and lakes opening up, boaters are getting ready to take to the water. To prevent making each other sick, a Fairbanks group has developed a new  coronavirus recreation policy.

The Fairbanks Paddlers club supports non-motorized boating on Interior Rivers and lakes. Don Pendergrast says the group did some research to develop a policy.

“Cobbling from a number of sources and our own personal experience -- the governor’s mandates, of course, but also the American Canoe Association and the American Packraft Association – put together what we think are good guidelines for safe paddling in the days of COVID-19.”

The club now recommends social distancing and wearing masks at put-ins and take-outs.

The new guidelines remind paddlers to think through any plans that might put them far from a hospital, saying “Paddling can be risky so the Fairbanks Paddlers Club recommends that all paddlers in rural or remote areas might plan to paddle below their or their group’s ability level because scarce healthcare resources should not be tied up with rescue or emergency services.”

“We take every phase of boating seriously, from a safety aspect,” Pendergrast says.

Cam Leonard, the club’s president, says they wanted to come up with new practices to deal with a disease that can be transmitted without someone showing symptoms.

 “The last couple of board meetings, we have basically been cancelling events. In the spring, we were cancelling our video nights and our film festival. And Don said, ‘you know, let’s focus on what we actually CAN do, instead of on all the things we can’t do.’ So this was his brainchild.”

Canoeing and kayaking are thought to be a perfect outdoor activity for social distancing, but it is the shuttling of cars to transport the boats that is problematic and may prevent group activities this summer.

“We’re kind of waiting to see how the mandates evolve. We’re hopeful we can do some things, whether its bike shuttles or on lakes. But at this point, we don’t have any club-sponsored boating events on the schedule,” Leonard says.

Pendergrast says he’s working on a list of trips that can be managed with bicycle shuttles.