River Run promotes inclusive, diverse adventuring to state

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Explore Kentucky Initiative is bringing sustainable and inclusive adventure to Kentucky’s outdoor community.

EKI director Gerry Seavo James said the Bluegrass River Run is one of the first steps to promote inclusivity in the outdoor recreation community, an area that struggles with diversity.

“We’re trying to be forward thinking about these conversations,” James said. “So the river run is to the public, it’s a race. And for us, it’s how can we solve (these issues) with the tools we have.”

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The Bluegrass River Run is part of the Kentucky Waterman Series, Kentucky’s second annual statewide paddlesports racing series, presented by Breaks Interstate Park.

James said EKI uses the revenue from the river run series to go back into other programs.

“Recently we helped take kids of color from Hazard, Kentucky to do a cultural exchange,” he said.

EKI took the children to a climbing gym in Louisville, he said.

“That’s one of our bigger big missions that we’re trying to push now is diversity and how can we get people of color in the outdoors, because the barriers exist,” James said.

There’s a history of systemic disenfranchisement that kept black Americans from using national park systems, James said.

James said as a black man spearheading an outdoor recreation organization in the South he hopes to pave a path to make outdoor recreation more inclusive and diverse, especially for people in marginalized groups including race, sexual orientation, gender identity and even body size.

“We’re just trying to think about ways that we can be inclusive,” he said.

James said there’s a misconception that people need specific gear and a certain amount of money to do some adventure activities, but that isn’t the case. Outdoor recreation companies often market to an affluent white individual, but James said with EKI’s events, he’s making sure to personally reach out and market in spaces that are run and used by people of color.

“People think that minority kids like black people especially that it’s just sports camps,” he said. “And it’s like no, there are people interested (the outdoors).”

James said the race is also a way to get people thinking about the waterways and its ecosystem.

“We want them to have that relationship with the Kentucky River and help protect it for years to come,” he said.

Participating in the river run is also a way to do something different, and it helps build confidence, James said.

James said EKI also purposely sought sponsors that aligned with its mission. Sponsors include Breaks Interstate Park, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Kentucky Horseshoeing School, Maiden Alley Cinema, River River Rockhouse, Canopy Crew and more.

He said the river run series would feature paddlesports races and floats.

“They’re also floats as well because…racers will come from out of state, but we are looking for the local people that want to come and float,” James said.

The Bluegrass River Run is meant to encourage local citizens and visitors to take in the majesty of the Commonwealth’s namesake waterway, the Kentucky River, James said.

Paddlers embark from Fort Boonesborough State Park, home to the site of historic Fort Boonesborough through the impressive limestone geology of the Palisades section of the Kentucky River in the ambiance of early spring, James said.

“This race is special because it’s the kickoff party and it’s on a special section of the river,” James said.

The six-mile race and float end in the Clays Ferry region in Fayette County and the 19-mile race ends near the historic Valley View Ferry which has been in operation since 1780. Post-event, paddlers rally at Proud Mary’s BBQ for the awards ceremony and festival.

The 2018 season features 11 events that take place across all regions of Kentucky including Appalachia, and western, central, and northern Kentucky starting in May and running through October, James said.

Last May, EKI had over 100 paddlers from 10 states attend the Bluegrass River Run and over 550 paddlers from 12 states participating in the series overall last year. James said the Waterman series generated around $30,000 in tourism dollars last year.

Participants will also have access to rental canoes, paddle boards and kayaks. Attendees can also take shuttles to the various access points during the race and festival.

James said people must pre-register before the event.

“We want to be able to make sure that we tell our safety folks that you know this is the number we have and then also just for like the shuttle purposes and stuff like that and if people want to share if they want a meal,” he said.

Pre-registration costs include a meal, a T-shirt, insurance, potential prizes and other swag. Floating prices are $15, and racing costs range from $60-$70.

“This year we have about 102 people registered,” he said. “It’s half and half. Half racers, half floaters.”

EKI is also hosting a pre-race party at Hall on the River at 7 p.m. Friday, May 11.

Parents are required to accompany children, and life jackets are also necessary.

Participants can start dropping their boat at 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 12. EKI’s outdoor recreational festival will begin around noon.