BECKWITH — More than 30 children took to the waters of the larger of two ponds at Fayette County Park on Wednesday, where they learned the basics of stand-up paddleboarding, practiced kayak maneuvers and used spinning rods to cast worm-baited hooks toward suspected fish hangouts.
A few of their parents joined in, while others watched, took cellphone photos of their children, or visited with friends on a tree-shaded stretch of shoreline on the steamy summer day.
Volunteers offered free instruction for all activities, while area outfitters provided the use of boats, boards, paddles, rods and reels at no cost. By the end of the three-hour session, youthful participants perched atop boards were paddling themselves across the lake in varying stages of stability, while those in kayaks pursued other paddlers through reed beds or sped their way across open water.
Shouts, laughter and the sounds of paddles and paddleboarders splashing into water echoed off the lake surface. For a substance abuse prevention program, Adventure: Fayette County looked like a lot of fun.
“Play is a really important part of the program,” said Katie Johnson, prevention coordinator for the Fayette County Health Department, one of several agencies and nonprofits involved in presenting an array of Adventure: Fayette County activities this summer.
“The idea is that if kids can connect with an activity they develop a passion for, they will pursue it, and not look elsewhere to fulfill their sense of adventure,” she said.
Wednesday’s session was the second of three similar events to be held at the pond from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during July by Adventure: Fayette County and its partners, although thought is being given to extending the program into August following next Wednesday’s session.
The water sports component of the program at Fayette County Park is open to children 10 years old or older, accompanied by a parent or other caregiver. For those under 10, Adventure: Fayette County hosts free programs involving crafts, books, an obstacle course and other activities on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 pm. at Fayetteville City Park and on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Collins Park in Oak Hill, through the end of July.
The program is patterned after a successful prevention model pioneered in Iceland, in which young people were given access to, and mentoring in, a variety of affordable outdoor activities and indoor sports, as well as dance, music and other forms of art. In addition to relieving stress, the activities give participants a sense of being part of a group, and a way to feel good without drugs or alcohol.
Having a range of engaging activities available to youth, and impressing upon parents the importance of encouraging their children to pursue them, helps reduce susceptibility to substance abuse, according to proponents of the Icelandic model.
Flat-water kayaking is the most popular activity at Adventure: Fayette County sessions at the Beckwith park, but many children have given stand-up paddleboarding a try.
“Kids take to paddleboarding very quickly,” said Melanie Seiler, director of Active Southern West Virginia, one of the nonprofit groups collaborating with Adventure: Fayette County. “It has a really fast learning curve that helps them see results and want to keep getting better,” she said.
“One goal is to someday have youth paddling and climbing groups that include kids of all skill levels operating in the county,” said Johnson.
During the Adventure: Fayette County events, face masks are worn when safe social distancing is not practicable, and boats, paddles and boards are sanitized between users. Lunches are provided free of charge courtesy of Coda Mountain Academy.
Outfitters donating equipment for use in the program include River Expeditions, Mountain Surf Paddle Sports and Pro River Outfitters. Other partners include West Virginia Prevention Research Center and the Fayette County Substance Abuse Task Force.
Adventure: Fayette County began last year as a two-day event in which 900 Fayette County 4th and 5th grade students received hands-on introductions to a number of sports and other activities.