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Paddling through Summer at the Kayak Center

Student Workers Providing Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding Opportunities to Public

Student workers kayaking with Kate Ford and Kevin Soleil Photo by Kate Ford
Students join Coordinator of Outdoor Programs & Boathouse Manager Kate Ford and Assistant Director of Outdoor & Bicycle Programs Kevin Soleil on the Merrimack River ahead of the Kayak Center's reopening.

05/23/2022
By Brooke Coupal

As temperatures began to warm outside, environmental science major Libby McGrosky looked upon the glistening Merrimack River eager for another season working at the Kayak Center at the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse.

“It’s the most perfect job, just to be outside all day,” says the outdoor enthusiast from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

McGrosky is one of nine students who will spend the summer offering educational and recreational kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding opportunities to the UML community and the public. Students hired for the job must undergo training to earn American Canoe Association Instructor certification, so that they are equipped with the knowledge and safety skills to help those who visit the Kayak Center when it reopens on May 27.

For about 10 years, the Kayak Center has provided rentals, instruction and tours to adults and children of all skill levels. Participants can rent equipment (including 23 kayaks, eight stand-up paddleboards and four canoes) by the hour, the day or the weekend, and can also purchase family and individual memberships. The center offers instruction and guided tours, including sunset and moon paddles, and has planned some river cleanups. On the weekends, there’s a shuttle service that drops off paddlers five miles upriver, allowing them to explore as they make their way back to the boathouse.

Coordinator of Outdoor Programs and Boathouse Manager Kate Ford is running the center for the first time this season and is encouraging everyone to give water sports a try.

Student workers kayaking Photo by Kate Ford
Students kayak along the Merrimack River as part of their training to work at the Kayak Center.

“For Lowell, which is a pretty diverse city, and UMass Lowell, which also is diverse in its population of students, there’s plenty of people who haven’t been in canoes or kayaks before,” she says. “It makes them nervous, not being familiar with it, and then they find out it’s pretty stable, it’s pretty fun, and it’s just a nice way to be outside. You totally get a different view of the place where you live when you’re on the river, looking at buildings from a different angle.”

Student workers give people a rundown on how to use the equipment before setting them off into the river. They cover everything from how to make turns to getting back into the watercraft if it capsizes. McGrosky says it’s rewarding to watch someone who has never used a kayak develop the skills to paddle safely on their own.

“People who’ve never been kayaking always come back, and they’re like, ‘I had the best time,’ and that’s so encouraging for what we’re doing,” she says. “Whenever you get a new person, it’s so exciting.”

Andrew Chapman, a rising senior chemical engineering major from Beverly, Massachusetts, likes helping people enjoy outdoor adventures in the city.

“It’s great to have the Kayak Center available for people because we’re right on the Merrimack River,” he says. “If we can provide that service for the public of Lowell, then it’s even better. It gives them the opportunity to get outside.”

The Kayak Center will be open seven days a week through Aug. 31 and then on weekends from Sept. 1 to Oct. 16. Anna Schmidt, a rising sophomore computer engineering major from Melrose, Massachusetts, is grateful students will still be able to enjoy the water sports at the beginning of the upcoming school year.

“It’s a stress relief,” she says. “I find it is an outlet to get away from studies and just have fun.”

Student workers outside boathouse Photo by Brooke Coupal
Anna Schmidt, Jason Han, Julia Boucher, Andrew Chapman, Marianne Graham, Libby McGrosky and Akshid Medha pose outside the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse. They are among nine students trained to help the public at the Kayak Center.
In addition to the Kayak Center, Campus Recreation offers a wide variety of outdoor activities. 

“There’s something for everyone,” McGrosky says. “I didn’t have to look very hard to find an outdoor community here.”

Campus Recreation has planned trips almost every weekend throughout the school year, including hiking, skiing, biking, sledding, running, surfing, rock climbing and backpacking. Ford says this gives students the chance to try something new at a low cost.

“To be able to join us and try these things for a day might open huge doors for somebody to discover that they really like whatever that activity is,” she says. “There’s just so much more you can learn.”

Multiday trips are also in the works for students, including a wilderness canoe excursion June 26-30 in the Adirondacks of New York. No canoeing or camping experience is needed.

“Doing something new and different that challenges you past your comfort zone and into your growth zone makes a big difference,” says Ford. “Getting out there and trying is valuable.”