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Premier paddling festival to lure enthusiasts to local Blueway waters

By Staff | Oct 19, 2010

Local paddlers are invited to join enthusiasts from around the country in Lee County waters Oct. 29 through Nov. 7 during the Fifth Annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival, the nation’s premier canoeing and kayaking destination.

The festival’s two weekends, coordinated by Lee County Parks & Recreation, offer hands-on nature experiences along with kayaking and canoeing, including speakers and instruction, eco-activities for children and adults, races, a fishing tournament, geocaching, green events and paddlers’ get-togethers.

Newly featured this year is an Oct. 30 daylong event at Lovers Key State Park, which sits along the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, a 190-mile marked-and-meandering saltwater trail on Southwest Florida’s coast. The day’s events highlight Stand-up Paddleboarding, coastal kayaking classes and demonstrations, canoeing, paddling gear for purchase, guided off-road cycling, birdwatching, educational wading trips and living history programs. Most of the day’s events are free with park admission.

The festival will close Nov. 7 with Bluegrass for a Blueway and a Taste of Matlacha. This fundraiser for the Pine Island Food Pantry will feature food from six restaurants, live music by the McIltrot Brothers and free kayak demonstrations. Also that day in Matlacha Park: The Florida Paddling Trail Association’s Paddle of the Pass Canoe & Kayak Regatta.

The Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival was recognized in the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events of 2010, and it continues to draw praise from national leaders in the canoe and kayaking industry. The 10-day festival has nearly 100 activities and events throughout Lee County from which to choose.

“The Calusa Blueways Paddling Festival is a get-away like none other. The local community has put together an amazing list of paddling events over two perfect weekends,” said Jim Marsh, publisher of Canoe & Kayak magazine. “There is an extraordinary amount of effort, coordination and resources thrown behind this. They actually roll out the red carpet for the kayakers! It’s a one of a kind experience we are endorsing to our readership.”

The festival also is recognized and supported by Sea Kayaker magazine.

The festival targets compassionate and completive longtime paddlers as well as eco-activity focused families and newcomers to canoeing and kayaking. More than a kayak symposium — children will find hands-on marine activities and paddlers’ spouses can try Calusa Indian crafts, take guided beach walks and enjoy live music and waterfront happy-hour events with raffle prizes.

For enthusiasts, paddling opportunities abound, from on-water instruction and demo paddlecraft / accessories to sunrise paddling fitness outings and lengthy kayak tours led by both Florida-based paddling clubs and some of the two dozen outfitters along the Calusa Blueway.

The annual Calusa Blueway Kayak Fishing Tournament is expected to draw 75 anglers from around the U.S. competing for cash and prizes, including a fully rigged kayak. The Calusa Blueway Photo Contest also has been revitalized for amateur photographers to show off their best shots.

Festival-goers can choose from two weekends to attend: Oct. 29-Nov. 1 and Nov. 4-7. Most activities are free or involve a nominal donation to the Calusa Blueway or an instructional fee. Social hours and live music are planned each weekend and are open to everyone. A detailed schedule is available at www.CalusaBluewayPaddlingFestival.com.

For more information on the trail, visit www.CalusaBlueway.com.