By Karen Zautyk
Fix! Fix! There were more than a dozen teams participating in the 7th annual Passaic River Paddle Relay on Saturday, and do you know whose team won?
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s.
Just kidding. (But we couldn’t resist.) In truth, the race was completely on the up-and-up. Or more precisely, considering the movement of all those paddles, on the up-and-down.
The event, sponsored by the Lower Passaic Watershed Alliance, is designed to raise awareness of both the river’s potential for recreational activities and the ongoing efforts to rescue it from decades of pollution and neglect.
The 5.5-mile course ran from the Nereid Boat Club in Rutherford to the Frank A. Vincent Marina at Riverbank Park in Kearny. Along with the canoes and kayaks carrying energetic and enthusiastic paddlers, Saturday morning found the Passaic dotted with other boats, provided as support (and potential rescue craft) by the Kearny Police and Fire Departments and the Fire Departments from Belleville, North Arlington, Clifton and Newark.
As for the racers, the four-person squads split the relay: Two paddlers in each canoe started the course at 9:30 a.m. and then were replaced by their two teammates upon reaching the North Arlington firehouse on River Road.
Adam Petsko and David Alexander were the winning team’s paddlers for the first leg; DiVincenzo and Greg Peterson then finished the course. Their overall time was 59 minutes, 56 seconds. “That was fast,” said Thomas Pietrykoski, Alliance chairman and race director, who also noted that the county exec’s squad was already well ahead of other competitors by the time they reached the firehouse.
Kayakers participated individually. Andrly Lyssikov defended his title by winning the Kayak Class with a time of 40 minutes and 46 seconds.
At the finish line, DiVincenzo told us that he has been participating in the paddle every year since its initial launch. Citing the awareness-raising component of the event, he commented, “We want people to see that this [the river] is a jewel in everyone’s backyard.”
(Some locals who are still cleaning out their homes and businesses following the recent flooding might wince at that, but, hey!, it’s not like the Passaic did it deliberately. It was just being a river. Blame nasty-tempered Hurricane Irene.)
Talking about pollution, DiVincenzo said, “The Passaic may still have its problems, but that’s why we all must work together to clean it and to maintain it.”
This had been emphasized in a pre-race statement by Pietrykoski, who said: “The goal is to provide an opportunity for people to become actively engaged in the stewardship of the Passaic River.”
Part of that effort involves increasing recreational access to the waterway. The Alliance has been working on the creation of a 76-mile Passaic River Blueway, a canoe/kayak “trail” that would stretch from Basking Ridge to South Kearny/Newark Bay.
Alliance members have researched the route, identifying existing access sites and searching for new ones. Currently, two of these locations are being developed up in Garfield.
In previous years, the paddle — which is co-sponsored by the Essex County Department of Parks & Recreation, the N.J. Meadowlands Commission and the Ironbound Community Corp. — ran all the way to Newark.
This time, the course was shortened considerably; But for an excellent reason. Work is underway in the Ironbound section to revitalize the long-neglected section of Riverbank Park that borders the waterway. By the 8th annual Passaic River Paddle, there should be a full-fledged marina there.