CINCINNATI — The Ohio River will be dotted with hundreds of colorful canoes, kayaks and paddle boards as thousands head to its banks for the annual Paddlefest on Aug. 6.
Last year’s festival brought 2,000 people from across the region to test out the waters of the Ohio, all for a good cause. The event serves as the largest fundraiser for the nonprofit Adventure Crew, which helps city teens access and fall in love with nature.
Adventure Crew started in 2012, when a teacher from Cincinnati public schools pulled together a bit of money to take a small group of students on a free kayak trip along the Little Miami River.
In the years since, the organization has grown to serve about 1,000 students in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, taking them on ski trips, biking adventures and even just hikes around the area, giving them a taste of the outdoors.
Adventure Crew covers the cost of the trips, equipment, travel expenses and even meals along the way.
Kirsten MacDougal, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the most important piece of Adventure Crew is making the region’s natural assets accessible to everyone.
“Kids will not have easy access to any of the places that we may take for granted,” she said. “So very often when our kids see the Little Miami River, it’s the first time that they’ve seen it, much less, they’re now going to paddle down it with us.”
Longtime Adventure Crew member Leah Dah said she was one of those students.
“I wasn’t really exposed to the depth and opportunities and how much stuff you can do outdoors until I got with adventure crew,” she said.
She said she’d been camping with her family a few times, but things like skiing, ice skating, and kayaking were never things Dah thought much about, assuming they would be financially out of reach.
“I wouldn’t have ever been exposed to any of it,” she said.
Instead, from seventh grade until graduation, Dah said she went on countless trips, culminating in a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.
“It changed my life,” she said.
Now headed to college, she said she’s grateful to see newer members like middle school student Madz Gerker get the chance to take on the same experiences.
“It’s just so peaceful,” Gerker said, joining Dah on a hike through Mt. Airy forest, stopping to identify any plant they could recognize. “It’s nice just to not be surrounded by buildings.”
Most of the students in Adventure Crew live in urban areas, so MacDougal said another part of the nonprofit’s goal is helping them recognize ways to experience the outdoors and connect with nature in places they may not have thought to look, while hoping to inspire a spirit of conservation.
“It’s giving them a whole new perspective of what their world is, and I mean we have climate change, we have all these challenges in front of us,” she said. “Well, it’s going to take this population, this generation to care about the earth, well you can’t care about that what you can’t know about.”
Last year’s Paddlefest raised $113,000 for Adventure Crew, helping support much of their operating expenses, though the event also serves as an educational tool. Paddlefest aims to help the Cincinnati area learn more about Adventure Crew and what they offer, while helping teach the same lessons, that nature and the Ohio River are for anyone willing to try it.
“Seeing so many people come out and support and really practice what adventure crew’s about, just having fun outdoors really meant a lot,” Dah said.