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Paddlers on the Mohawk

Down by the River Kayak Rentals helps show Amsterdam from a new perspective

Groups of Kayakers join Audrey Egelston of Down by the River Kayak Rentals as they make their way along the Mohawk river. Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. (Photo by Carolyn Holthausen)

AMSTERDAM — There’s a lot going on down by the Mohawk River in Amsterdam these days. From the summer concert series and various festivals taking place at Riverlink Park to the tranquil river walk provided by the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge, the city offers plenty of reasons for residents to get out and enjoy the waterfront.

But for those who wish to take their waterfront recreation one step further there’s Down by the River Kayak Rentals. Founded by Audrey Egelston in 2016, Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam.

“It’s so beautiful and nice here,” Egelston said. “It’s nice to be able to show people that because once people see it, then they see Amsterdam in a different light.”

Egelston offers guided tours by appointment, beginning at the Port Jackson boat launch on Erie Terrace on the Southside of Amsterdam. Paddlers have the option of a Mohawk River tour through Amsterdam or an Erie Canal Lock Paddle, which takes paddlers through Lock 11 and up to Fort Johnson before returning to the boat launch.

“It’s cool with the urban kayaking because there’s some parts of the tour where you feel like you’re totally out in nature and then there’s other parts where it’s like you’re in a city,” Egelston said. “There are people who wave to you from the pedestrian bridge or you hear the train go by. So you have little reminders that you are still in the city.”

Groups of Kayakers join Audrey Egelston of Down by the River Kayak Rentals as they make their way along the Mohawk river. Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. (Photo by Carolyn Holthausen)

Down by the River Kayak Rentals, which takes its name from the famous Saturday Night Live skit featuring Chris Farley from 1993, began operations in 2016.

“I opened Down by the River in 2016, right before the pedestrian bridge [was finished],” Egelston said. “It was something that I felt somebody should do. Every time I went kayaking down here I thought somebody should do tours. And then I was like, wait a minute. I could do that.”

Egelston, a native of the town of Glen, took up kayaking as a hobby while attending college at SUNY Oswego, enjoying the many waterways that the Adirondacks have to offer in her off time while pursuing a degree in education. After college, Egelston moved to Amsterdam in 2014 after landing a job at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. But Egelston brought her love of the water back with her to Montgomery County and began looking for places to paddle a bit closer to home.

“It’s always good to have outdoor activities to do,” Egelston said. “I really enjoy being on the water and [I] would go up to the Adirondacks which was great but you’d spend all day in the car going somewhere. One of my aunts said you should check out the Mohawk River, it’s really cool and safe. That kind of went against everything that you hear growing up about the Mohawk River. But we kayaked here and it was [great.]”

Down by the River Kayak Rentals started out with five kayaks in 2016 and has since expanded its fleet to 11 — a number which is sure to rise as the popularity of the service continues to grow.

Groups of Kayakers join Audrey Egelston of Down by the River Kayak Rentals as they make their way along the Mohawk river. Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. (Photo by Carolyn Holthausen)

“[I’ve got] a lot of really positive feedback from the community,” Egelston said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started because I had just moved to Amsterdam and kind of felt like an outsider. But there were so many people that rallied around me that I had never met before and [they] were so kind and generous and just really supportive right from the beginning. There are people that I met through doing this that I now consider like family.”

In addition to guided tours by appointment, Egelston hosts a Tuesday night kayaking club. Egelston gathers a group of between 20 and 30 kayakers each Tuesday to set out on the Mohawk River.

“There are a lot of people in the area that like to go kayaking but they might not necessarily want to go by themselves. And so it’s cool to be in a good size group,” Egelston said. “The cool thing with the Mohawk river, too, is that the dams with the locks control the flow so you can start and stop in the same place. That makes it really nice because you don’t have to figure out logistics. Once they see how easy it is to do it, then they might feel more comfortable [to go on their own].”

Not only do paddlers get to enjoy the natural and urban scenery of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam; they get to revel in the area’s rich historical past from a new perspective.

“There’s a lot of really significant historical things to see right here,” Egelston said. “There was a button factory — Harvey Chalmer’s Hampshire Pearl Buttons. They made buttons out of river clams from the Mississippi River, and when they got done making the buttons they would throw the clam shells and the reject buttons in the river. So there’s an island that we pass on the tour where you can find shells with the holes in them and the old buttons and everything.”

Groups of Kayakers join Audrey Egelston of Down by the River Kayak Rentals as they make their way along the Mohawk river. Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. (Photo by Carolyn Holthausen)

In an expansion of its historical kayaking tours, Down by the River Kayak Rentals is participating in a summer kayaking program called “15 Miles on the Erie Canal.”

“The Arkell Museum got a grant through the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor and we’re doing a program with Arkell and the Schoharie Crossing site where we’re doing guided kayak trips in five points in Montgomery County,” Egelston said. “We’re going to start out in St. Johnsville and work our way down to Amsterdam and different locations. And it’s called 15 miles on the Erie Canal because if you do all five of them then you would have done 15 miles.”

In addition, Egelston is working with the Schenectady County Historical Society on various historical kayaking trips on the Mohawk River.

Down by the River Kayak Rentals is open to anyone interested in kayaking, including children and adults with no experience on the water. Egelston stresses the importance of water safety to all of her customers.

“The safety part of [kayaking] is so huge, making sure that people are educated on water safety and wearing life jackets,” Egelston said. “Most of the people I have are beginners. A lot of times I give them a quick lesson before we go out and I explain all the safety stuff and kind of give them pointers. So it’s definitely something that’s beginner friendly.”

Groups of Kayakers join Audrey Egelston of Down by the River Kayak Rentals as they make their way along the Mohawk river. Down by the River Kayak Rentals offers folks the opportunity to take a guided kayak tour of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. (Photo by Carolyn Holthausen)

Egelston said the highlight of her career with Down by the River Kayak Rentals thus far was taking Congressman Paul Tonko out on the river.

“Paul Tonko came kayaking a couple years ago. It was so fun to see him on the river,” Egelston said. “I think being able to see the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook from the river, because that was a project that he was really involved with, and seeing Riverlink Park, which he was such a big supporter of, was really special. So that was a high point for me to be able to have him see that from the water.”

“When you go out [on the Mohawk River,’] and you see the natural beauty that we have here and the historical significance and the developments that are going on, it’s really encouraging,” Egelston said. “As somebody that lives here, I feel really proud to live here and to have something like this right here in our backyard and it’s neat to have other people getting on board with that too.”

For more information on Down by the River Kayak Rentals, visit www.downbytheriverkayakrentals.com or www.facebook.com/downbytheriverkayakrentals.

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