Thursday, June 24, 2004

Activities extend beyond boating

Fishing, water skiing, kayaking and more all part of recreation on river

By Shannon Russell
Enquirer staff writer

Imagine a place that offers kayaking, canoeing, swimming, boating, water skiing, inner-tubing, fishing and wildlife observation for all ages, free of charge as long as you supply equipment.

Welcome to another summer day on the Ohio River.

Brewster Rhoads is a familiar sight kayaking on the Ohio River.
(Meggan Booker photo)
Kayaking has Rhoads rolling on the river
"There are neat things about the river that people don't think about," said Rich Cates, Southern Region Manager of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Watercraft Division. "It's pretty limitless."

The Ohio River spans the 451-mile southern boundary of the state. The main stem, or main body of the river, juts out into tributaries. In many instances, water is as "flat as a pond," Cates said, and is perfect for water activity.

The natural resource's 91,300 surface acres of water offer an economical way to relax outdoors. Boating is the most popular recreational activity on the Ohio, with an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 registered boaters in the Cincinnati area, according to the ODNR. Boats must be 17 feet or longer to cruise the main stem.

West Chester resident Marianne Kenner and her husband, Joe, cruise the Ohio on a 50-foot houseboat. As Coast Guard auxiliary members, they often patrol the waters for safety, along with several agencies like the ODNR. The Kenners also teach boating safety classes focusing on federal regulations, boating skills and buoy systems.

Because anyone can purchase a boat and travel the river, Marianne Kenner said it's important to understand the river is a federal waterway. Barges and other commercial crafts have priority. Learning the rules of the river - and having common sense when it comes to mixing alcohol and recreation - help make the waterways safer for everyone.

Kenner has been teaching boating safety for 15 years and boating since she was a 2-year-old in Miami. One of her favorite activities is inviting friends on the houseboat and lolling along the river, docking just to visit a restaurant. That's the fun of river boating, she said: You can travel at your own whim.

"There are so many different things to do and places to go," Kenner said. "You can go to Pittsburgh if you so desire, or go all the way to New Orleans. You're not locked into a body of water."

Cates said water skiing, tubing and swimming are permitted on the river, except in designated areas such as the downtown commercial area due to the dangers of heavy traffic and large liners.

But the commercial traffic provides exciting river experiences for the bold at heart, according to Hyde Park resident Lee Robinson.

Robinson, president and owner of Robinson Realtors, is an international kayaker who visits the Ohio daily. The 10-time Little Miami Triathlon winner surfs barge wakes for fun, merging behind the aquatic dinosaurs and cruising on the power wakes for miles.

"It's very exhilarating," Robinson said. "You have to crank at an exploding hard rate to go fast enough to merge. Once you're in the groove, it's like riding a wave."

Even with decades of experience, safety comes first. Robinson described barges as "a quiet danger" because they "move sort of slowly so you can accidentally not pay attention."

Backwaters and tributaries are home to many recreational canoeists and kayakers. The Cincinnati Rowing Club practices on the Licking River, and canoe liveries long have settled along the Little Miami.

Fishing from the riverbanks and beyond is popular, and Bruce Cunagin, general manager of Dixie Marine in Fairfield, even called the Ohio "a fisherman's paradise." Anglers can feast on catfish, striper, bass, crappie and bluegill by boat, bank or weekend tournaments.

"It's a great place to boat - it's got it all," Cunagin said. "The fishing is a lot better than you'd imagine."

The water itself - and what goes into it - often dissuades potential river enthusiasts. Cates said the water, as a moving source, diffuses rapidly and continually improves its quality. Health advisories are issued if the water is unsafe, he said.

Pretty much every water activity imaginable can be conducted on the Ohio River - even SCUBA diving. "I think you could do it, but I don't think it would be the experience you're looking for," Cates said.



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