Paddle Niagara wants to partner with the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake to clean up and open a section of waterfront along River Beach Drive as a recreational boat launch, an idea council bandied around last month.
Tim Balasiuk, owner and founder of Paddle Niagara, presented the idea during a council meeting Aug. 30.
Council had previously considered turning the area into a boat launch after complaints that Balls Beach had become overcrowded and the parking situation near the beach deteriorated.
“Balls Beach is becoming increasingly busy with tourists and locals alike and, of course, we want to be able to continue to see people go down and utilize that waterfront,” Balasiuk told council.
The shoreline in front of 146 River Beach Dr. is at least 100 feet long, Coun. Norm Arsenault said.
It is currently home to a large number of rocks and rubble, Balasiuk said.
“You actually have the opportunity to create a zero entry launch, which is effectively the environment we have down at Queen’s Royal Beach,” he said.
A zero entry launch is parallel with the surface of the water and allows easy launching for paddle boards and kayaks.
The smaller stones now on the shore could be raked out further into the lake to create a gradual slope and large armour stones could be installed right on the shoreline as a launching deck, Balasiuk said.
Town staff are preparing a report on the idea and the eventual design depends on staff’s ideas and whether the idea is approved.
Paddle Niagara has been operating in Niagara-on-the-Lake for nine years. For its 10th anniversary, Balasiuk has been busy acquiring a fleet of kayaks.
While he does run a business, he said he is driven by a love of water sports and a desire to share that with others.
“Tourism is not slowing down in Niagara and that’s something we can’t ignore. But, ultimately, my plan is community-minded,” Balasiuk said.
He wants to use the area to hold kids camps in partnership with the town throughout the summer. He said a lot of his campers already sign up through the community centre on Anderson Lane.
It’s about getting more people and kids in the water, he said.
“I grew up in the junior sailing program so I had access to the river,” he told The Lake Report in an interview Tuesday.
“Kids that come out to (Paddle Niagara’s) camps these last few years are kids that have tried the junior sailing program and it sort of spooked them to be out in the middle of the river.”
He said paddle boards are a good way for youth to be introduced to water sports but aren't ready to embrace the thrill of sailing.
Balasiuk also sees the area as an ideal place to educate water sports fanatics about the currents and dangers of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
He wants to install signage that informs visitors and users of the boat launch about the strong currents that run through the river and out into the lake.
And for good reason: Balasiuk said he has made 20 water rescues with his motor boat this season.
“The last one was the craziest one I have done so far,” Balasiuk said.
He spotted a group of people floating on inflatable tubes out into Lake Ontario. He took his boat out and discovered it was seven Americans who started their float up in Lewiston and didn’t swim into shore before the current grabbed them.
“I took them over to the state park in Youngstown and dropped them off,” he said.
That wasn’t the first time he had to save Americans from the pull of the river. One time he was approached by border security as he carried some American river drifters to safety.
“I told them I spotted some Americans who were in need of help so I took them over to the American shoreline. In essence, they ended up thanking me for it,” he said.
He said he always stresses awareness when dealing with large bodies of water like Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.
“Research wherever it is that you are paddling. Check the weather forecast, check the wind. Understand the elements and understand your surroundings thoroughly,” he said.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report