Pandemic Brings Rise in Paddling to PA

This year has brought with it an unprecedented change in lifestyle for us all. The COVID-19 pandemic has had this effect not only on individuals, but also on businesses and organizations who have had to shift their operations to a new normal. It’s not all bad though for one area of interest that has boomed to new levels: outdoor recreation.  

More people than ever have shown a growing interest in exploring the outdoors, and some businesses have seen the opportunity to accommodate this new enthusiasm. The land and water trails within the Susquehanna Greenway and across the state have provided a platform that many have taken advantage of. 

One area that has been seriously impacted since the pandemic began is the tourism industry. Andrew Miller, Executive Director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau (SRVVB) attended several web seminars to help determine the best course of action for a business dependent on tourism during the pandemic. 

“What was consistent in all of the webinars relative to tourism and tourism marketing, was that your best bet was to promote outdoor recreation.” 

With places like The Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau promoting outdoor recreation so heavily, it is no wonder that the Pennsylvania State Parks within the Susquehanna Greenway and beyond have also seen a boom in visitors. As restrictions throughout Pennsylvania began to ease, Miller saw an opportunity to adapt bureau operations, directing people to opportunities for tourism right in their backyard, most of which embraced the outdoors. The SRVVB’s counties of Synder, Union, and Northumberland fortunately overlap with the Susquehanna Greenway’s corridor of parks, trails, and communities along the river, offering a prime platform to get people outdoors. 

Nick Sherlock, Park Manager for the Shikellamy State Park Complex, has noticed an increase in paddling at the Lake Augusta section of the Susquehanna River, and an increase in visitors to the park, with the marina section seeing an increase in visitors of 40% compared to last year.  

“The park has been busier, especially on the weekends.” Sherlock says, “The boat launch has definitely been packed.” 

Some might worry about the spread of COVID-19 within state parks due to the increased traffic, but Sherlock says that the people visiting the parks have all been doing an excellent job with taking precautions and social distancing. 

With boat ramps, like the one at Shikellamy State Park, seeing an increase in usage since the pandemic, there has come an increase in paddling as well. According to a recent study put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, kayak sales have seen an 85% jump since COVID-19. 

McCrackens Canoe Sales and Rental in Clearfield County has experienced this increase in sales first-hand. Dave McCracken, one of the owners, explained that sales have increased so much that both their large and small store locations have sold out.  

Because of this demand, many outfitters like McCrackens have been having a hard time keeping up with their store of paddling equipment. This scarcity of supply is something we are becoming all too familiar with. As one Facebook user pointed out in the Kayaking in PA group, "Kayaks, the new toilet paper!" 

One local paddler, who has his own kayak and does not have to race to the stores to find one, has also noticed the increase in paddling and other areas of outdoor recreation up close. Jerry Walls and his wife are avid paddlers and enjoy the chance to get out on Pine Creek and the Susquehanna River. While stopped for a bite to eat, Walls says he has seen many trucks with kayaks attached, presumably looking to find a good spot to put-in and get out on the water. 

As a Volunteer Water Trail Steward for the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP) Walls has also seen a significant increase in paddlers since March while visiting river access sites in Lycoming County. Walls believes that the increase would have been much greater, even record-breaking, if we had gotten more snow and rainfall over this past season.  

Along with paddling, Walls and his wife often frequent the Susquehanna Riverwalk in Williamsport, another place where he has seen a significant increase in people. 

“I counted 163 people in a two-mile walk that afternoon,” Walls said when he decided to count the number of people on the trail. 

The pandemic has brought many changes to our communities and life as we know it, but outdoor recreation has provided opportunities for individuals, families, and businesses alike to adjust to this new climate.  

Paddling, walking, hiking, and biking are all activities that can be done with minimal risk and more people are taking advantage of that. So, load up the kayaks, and the family, and get out on the Greenway and enjoy all that it has to offer! 

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