Ridgefield residents were back on the water Saturday as part of a smaller version of the annual Big Paddle group boating, the second of the city’s monthly First Saturday events to return to an in-person format after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the usual festivities were downsized, with a morning wildlife tour and an afternoon guided paddle on Lake River, unlike the usual mass paddle that prior years’ events entailed. Ridgefield Deputy City Manager Lee Knottnerus said the first group of paddlers set out right as a downpour started, though the afternoon group got notably calmer weather.
This year’s event marked the 10th Big Paddle, an event that has gone on longer than the First Saturdays series it is a part of. Knottnerus explained the Big Paddle began after the designation of the 32-mile Lewis River to Vancouver Lake water trail, initially as a celebration by those who organized the water trail to be federally designated.
In regular years, the event began with an opening ceremony including a Chinook blessing before the group of attendees paddled along Lake River to the confluence with the Columbia River, led by a Chinook canoe and two canoes from the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.
Though about a dozen paddlers took part in the afternoon guided paddle this year, Knottnerus said in a normal year the event could have several hundred on the water at once. The event went remote for 2020, much like the other First Saturday events, which have been a fixture for Ridgefield for several years.
Saturday also marked the kickoff of the second year of 100 Miles in 100 Days, where residents are tasked with completing the titular challenge between June 5 and September 13.
The city has received recognition for its First Saturdays series, gaining an Association of Washington Cities Municipal Excellence Award in 2016. For much of the past year, the events went virtual, involving performances, cooking classes and craft tutorials, as well as take-home activity bags Knottnerus said became a big hit.
“We wanted to keep it going, partly because it’s First Saturdays, and that’s kind of our thing, and partly because people needed something to do,” Knottnerus said.
The desire to be out and about was palpable during the first return to an in-person format in May.
“Everyone is just so happy to be out and in person … doing something, and it feels so good,” Knottnerus said.