- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

OHIOPYLE, Pa. (AP) - For the past 15 years, hundreds of spectators have flocked to Ohiopyle State Park to see skilled kayakers take to the waters and paddle over the historic 18-foot falls.

But what’s now thought of as a popular sporting event was once met with opposition. When the concept for the water race began in 1999, it was thought to be a hoax.

According to a newsletter from Barry Tuscano - who current event coordinator Barry Adams refers to as the “father of the event” - a consistent practical joke was to post fliers around Ohiopyle about upcoming falls races and watch the nervousness of the park rangers as the phony date approached.

But a flier that circulated in August of 1999 was anything but a hoax, he wrote, as it was tied to a weekend in November of that year.

“They were against it for a number of reasons,” Adams said of the state park. Tuscano wrote that while the park supervisor at the time, Doug Hoehn, was opposed to events involving the falls, he did submit the paperwork to his superiors.

Hoping the event would be approved and with only four short months to iron out the details, Tuscano and a team of avid kayakers and Ohiopyle businessmen worked to develop safety guidelines, permit applications and reputable sponsorship, among other park-related details.

“Every time we presented proposals, they sent them back with questions and requests,” said Adams, referring to the state Bureau of State Parks.

“We would meet the requests, and then they’d come up with more. It moved very slowly.”

Tuscano wrote that for months, the “red-tape” game was played as paperwork and bureaucracy was sorted out. Ultimately, the event was approved and the team began final preparations for what would turn out to be one of the park’s largest events.

“What exactly happened that day? Exactly what everyone wanted to happen,” Tuscano wrote. “If you combine a big rapid with a big audience, the boaters will crawl out of the woodwork. But I think it really had more to do with restoring a stretch of river to its rightful place.”

“All of those smiles confirmed that the Yough was reconnected and whole again,” he continued.

Adams said the first event drew nearly 300 participants who went on to make more than 1,000 runs over the falls every eight seconds. There were boaters ranging in ages from 14 to 63, and no major mishaps were reported, Tuscano wrote.

Now as the event enters into its 16th year, Adams said the number of boaters has decreased a bit due to the increased exposure on the falls.

Last year, the event drew roughly 170 boaters, but more than 5,000 spectators lined the streets of Ohiopyle.

“It was a novelty then. Now, there is limited access to the falls year round, not just for special events,” said Adams, adding that John Hallas, former park manager and current assistant director for the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, was instrumental in granting the year-round access for boaters to the falls.

“A lot of boaters set goals when they begin - one of those goals is usually to run over the falls in Ohiopyle,” said Adams.

Adams said the race, however, is not for first-time boaters, but rather designated for experienced kayakers. They often draw repeat participants to the Southwestern Pennsylvania park, though they also see a fair amount of new faces from out of the region.

“This is a very unique event. I can only think of one other event like this in the country,” Adams said, referring to an advanced falls race in Washington D.C., designed for elite kayakers.

This year’s Over the Falls Festival is scheduled for August 22 with registration beginning at 8 a.m., followed by hours of practice runs. At noon, the race will commence - a 200-yard whitewater course with two-foot, four-foot and 18-foot drops.

A freestyle race is also scheduled to allow for kayakers to surf the rapids above the waterfall and perform cartwheels and routines for points.

Following the events, the town of Ohiopyle will host a “town party” at 7 p.m., which includes live music, food vendors, photos from previous years and the “lighting of the falls” as dusk approaches.





Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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