| Danielle Eaton
SPRINGFIELD – The Pioneer Valley Rowing Club (PVRC) kicked off their kayak rental season Memorial Day by offering residents the chance to get out and enjoy the water for free while honoring a late Springfield resident who was passionate about water recreation.
Executive director of PVRC, Ben Quick, said the last time the club offered kayak rentals was about six years ago. The program was brought back with the purpose of honoring and remembering the life of avid water recreation enthusiast, Andy Veliz, who passed away at the age of 47 from colorectal cancer.
“Andy was an enthusiast of the river. Rowing, kayaking, he was an energetic, vibrant outdoorsman who instructed rowing for 17 years at the YMCA,” Quick said. “This would have been totally his thing.”
Quick said Veliz family first approached the PVRC with the idea of wanting to memorialize his love of water recreation in some way. Quick said they began “kicking around some ideas” and the idea of naming the kayak rental program after Veliz came up. “As soon as the idea came out, it was perfect,” he said.
In addition to memorializing Veliz, Quick said he hopes that people will see the name of the kayak rental program and ask questions. “The hope is that people will ask and we can tell them his story,” he said.
Naming the program after Veliz serves another purpose as well, educating people. “The other objective is to educate people about CRC screening,” he said. Quick explained that when Veliz’ was diagnosed, he was just 47-years-old, which is often before the age when doctors begin recommending screenings.
Quick said due to the coronavirus, a significant number of the club’s programming has been put on pause, but they were excited to be able to move forward with the kayak rental program. “With COVID, 90 percent of our programming cannot continue. It’s many people in big boats,” he said. “We had been planning this kayak rental for a while and it’s one of the things we can move forward with. It feels like he’s smiling down on us.”
Quick said the program began for the season on Memorial Day and will continue “all summer on weekend mornings from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.” Should the demand increase, he said the PVRC would “consider adding hours.”
Rentals are “first come first serve,” and Quick said, should crowds get too big they will close the gate. To protect both staff and those renting kayaks, Quick said social distancing would be observed and kayaks, life vests and paddles would be disinfected in between uses. Additionally, people will not be allowed in the boathouse. Quick said they’re hope to convey the message, “Come with what you need, enjoy and then leave with a big smile so others can enjoy it too.”
Quick emphasized that the rental program would not be ideal for those needing or wanting instruction on how to use the kayaks or rowing. “There will be no beginner instruction, this is not a coached program,” he said. They will, however, “be vigilant for your safety.”
He said those who aren’t comfortable taking the kayaks out by themselves will be able to receive instruction at a later date, when restrictions are lifted. “If you’re not comfortable, that’s no problem, at some point restrictions will be lifted and we can help,” he said.
While the club has plans to offer group kayak rentals in the future, Quick said while restrictions are still in place they hope that people will come out to enjoy the water while being safe. “Our hope is that over the course of the summer, people will come back, [and] fisherman will come enjoy the access to the kayak,” he said.
Kayak rentals will cost $20 for adults for the first hour, while kids will cost $10 for the first hour of use. Quick said there will be discounts available for those who wish to rent kayaks for more than one hour, or the whole day. He said those planning on spending even just an hour renting a kayak should remember to bring a hat, bring their own water and be dressed to get wet.
Quick added those looking for more information about the program, the club or wishing to help the club financially during these difficult times can visit https://www.pvriverfront.org to do so.