Saranac Lake’s Whitewater Legacy
This is not the first time this section of the Saranac River has been used for whitewater recreation. In 1995 a group of local whitewater paddlers joined together to build what was to be known as the Hydro Point Park Project, which was comprised of the still-existent River Walk, as well as a beginner whitewater kayak/canoe practice area. This whitewater training area extended from the foot of Lake Flower Dam to an area across the river from the current Beaver Park, then called the Boy Scout Canoe Launch. The training area covered 500 feet of river and included 24 wooden slalom gates, similar to the gates used for the summer Olympics. During the construction of this training area, whitewater racing was quite popular, and slalom courses were popping up all over the country, even showing up in college pools.
To create the whitewater training area several jetties were installed using local stone and other natural materials. Most of the labor for construction came from volunteers, including members of a paddling club called Adirondack Paddlers, as well as students in the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College. Combined with a new Riverwalk and surrounding landscaping, the whole area was a sight to behold! Others seemingly thought so as well because the training area received a lot of use from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.
In 1995, the year the whitewater training area was completed, the first annual Riverfest was held at Hydro Point Park. This three-day fundraising event for the Riverwalk attracted boaters from across the northeastern United States, many of whom were there specifically for whitewater activities. Popular kayaking brands such as Dagger and Perception offered free boat demos, and the Riverfest Slalom Race held at the whitewater training area saw dozens of participants!
Festivals weren’t the only activity to happen at Hydro Point Park. Whitewater canoe and kayak instructional courses were also a well-attended pastime. For over 10 years local youth were taught by paddling instructors Jim Sausville (the project director for the whitewater training area construction) and Jason Smith (the owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters). Some of the best whitewater paddlers in the state learned from their courses and experienced top-level education in paddling. Jim and Jason are often known for their stories of learning how to roll a kayak and racing in the slalom course gates during their younger years.