Kayaking Keystone
Inside the Outdoors, July 08
, 2011

So there we stood, a small group of enthusiasts, watching our instructor, Pam McQuistian, environmental education specialist for the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources for Keystone State Park, New Alexandia, grip a kayak paddle with both hands, extended out in front of her. We were about to learn the basics of the sport.

“Hold your paddle straight out in front of you and turn side to side with your torso,” she said. All sounded very easy at first, and wondered why the instruction. After all, Here we were about to venture out on a relatively smooth surfaced body of water, comparatively smaller than most lakes one may think of traversing. But then I assumed everything has its do’s and don’ts and this was no different.

“Skim the surface with your symmetrical paddles. Don’t dig too deep into the water or you may tip you boat,” she said. “Keep the blades horizontal so the boat doesn’t tip.”

Even though I was trying to take it all in and frantically take notes at the same time, I knew maybe it was better to listen. The rest would fall into place.

Kayaking, by the way, is the fastest growing water sport. There are actually three different types – recreational, which what we were pursuing, tour/sea kayaking, which I have done a little of in the past, and whitewater.

There are two ways to get into one of these boats. The first is to step in and sit down on the seat and let another individual push the craft into the water. The second is to actually sit on the side near the seat’s location, gripping onto one’s paddle which is located behind you and then leaning on it to relocate your posterior onto the boat’s seat. This is the “do it yourself plan” when others are not around to help. To perform this, the boat must be parallel to the shore.

A lot of people get recreational and whitewater kayaking mixed up. The boats may look somewhat similar, but recreationally, one sits in the boat, on a seat with plenty of space for the lower torso to stretch out. There are even pegs jutting out that can be adjusted to rest your feet on for the comfort on your travels. This boat is not constructed for roll over riders as in whitewater kayaking. If the boat tips, the rider just falls out. Each person is suited with a floatation device in case such an event may occur.

I’ve been afloat many times, canoeing, row boating and being propelled by electric motors. But what was ahead would turn out to be a real workout. My arms and torso may all be connected, but unused muscles had their own way of speaking to me, and folks, I got the message in short order.

All in all, it was another chapter in my book of life experiences.

Pam suggested that if one were going to “pleasure cruise” on the lake at the park, “Be prepared for potentially hot or cold weather – sunscreen and a hat are recommended on sunny days and ample clothing will be needed on a cold day. You may want to bring a beach towel (to sit on) and a drink. Valuables and anything you don’t want to get wet should be kept in your car or at your campsite. Please wear sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Flip flops are not recommended,” she said.

And wet you will get from the dripping paddle. But that will be soon overlooked as nature is observed in all its beauty.

For example, an osprey clamped onto a fish right in front of me about twenty minutes into my adventure. I have yet to figure out whether the incident was to please or aggravate me. I love nature too much even though I realize God has His plan for all creature’s survival.

Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, some with motors and paddleboats are made available at Keystone State Park by the Barkers Northwest Kayak and Canoe, a family-owned business. Rates are very reasonable. There is even a bait shop in The Boat House operated by Bill’s Baits.

Every Sunday from now until September 4, one can receive kayak lessons as I did, and then be able to cruise out on the open waters for an hour of invigoration, exploration, and excitement. There is an $8 fee for one hour’s outing, a minimal cost for great entertainment.

By the way, McQuistian was joined by two DCNR interns, Lisa Barreiro, a Duquesne University student from Mt. Washington and Brandon Chamberlain, a St. Vincent student from Springdale.

Prior to our outing, Barreiro presented a lecture as to the disposal of batteries. “Never throw them away or burn them,” she said. “If they leak, cadmium, nickel and mercury will seep into the landfills or pollute the atmosphere.” She advised the participants to either take them to Radio Shack for disposal or recharge them.

There are many more activities planned at the park by Pam. They will be posted regularly in the Latrobe Bulletin. Don’t miss out on some great opportunities.

- Paul J. Volkmann
You can contact me by email