Ikes in Action: Maryland Chapter Brings Community to the Water

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Maryland >> The Rockville Chapter has been engaging youth through its Water Sports Program for almost three decades. Along the way, the chapter broadened its outreach to the community and became even more of a family destination. Tom Selle, who conducts an introductory kayaking class at the chapter, provides insight into the program’s history of success.

In 1991, Jim Hill brought canoeing, white-water kayaking, power boating, and sailing to the Rockville Chapter’s programming for youth members. Hill emphasized safety training and water rescue - training that came in handy during real-world emergencies, like when youth member Alan Frans performed a life-saving rescue on Pennsylvania’s Youghiogheny River while the adults on-scene were still figuring out what to do.

After Hill retired as head of the Water Sports Program, chapter member Jim Bonatti volunteered to lead it, and the program focus changed to flat-water kayaking. Bonatti organized monthly kayaking trips on lakes and rivers, with safety still one of the primary components of the program. After Bonatti moved out of state, Ellison Withers volunteered to lead the program and continues in this role today.

Each spring, the chapter offers an introductory kayaking class for youth and adults. The class covers basic safety, equipment, water entry and exit, strokes, proper fitting of personal flotation devices (PFDs), and more. Then participants practice their new skills on the chapter’s three-acre lake. A core group of kayakers — including Jeri Crist, Ellison Withers, and Fred Sneed - provide support for the water portion of the classes.

Withers organizes monthly kayak excursions on the nearby Potomac and Monocacy Rivers from June through September. These family-friendly trips are open to chapter members and non-members. The chapter supplies all the necessary equipment, including kayaks, paddles, life jackets, and pumps to bail out water. (It’s not unusual for a participant to tip over — even experienced kayakers — so assistance is always close at hand.)

The chapter has continued to invest in the Water Sports Program over the years, and the inventory today includes 17 kayaks, 8 canoes, and about 80 PFDs in youth and adult sizes. The canoes are regularly used by the chapter-sponsored Boy Scout Troop 1094 for river canoeing trips, and the Scouts and troop leaders help repair and maintain canoes and the trailer the chapter bought to transport them.

The Water Sports Program is also a big part of the chapter’s annual National Hunting and Fishing Day event, which brings hundreds of community members to the chapter property the last weekend of September. Volunteers cordon off part of the lake for water sport use (the remainder is used to introduce youth to fishing), help attendees select properly fitting equipment, and instruct them on the basic use of paddles and how to get in and out of the water craft. At last year’s event, nearly 100 visitors enjoyed kayaking or canoeing - and time spent outdoors! Perhaps as important, the Water Sports Program enhances the chapter’s community outreach and is a potential source of new members.

Tom Selle, Rockville Chapter