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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Potsdam, Colton hope to draw whitewater enthusiasts

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POTSDAM - St. Lawrence County communities are working together to attract thrill-seeking tourists to pack up their kayaks and visit local rivers.

The villages of Canton and Potsdam and the town of Colton have been working together to plan kayaking attractions at three locations, which would be built using state grant money received last year.

Colton is already a hotspot for savvy kayakers.

“We essentially have a natural whitewater park,” said Ruth T. McWilliams, director of Colton’s Tourism and Beautification Committee.

Brookfield Renewable Power releases water from the Colton Dam several times every summer. The resulting rush creates a 3-mile stretch of extremely challenging rapids and waterfalls through Stone Valley for experienced kayakers.

The dam was opened twice during Labor Day weekend, once on Sunday and once on Monday, and about 70 kayakers showed up each day, many from across the eastern United States and Canada, and even one from Switzerland and one from New Zealand.

Until now, the town has done little to court kayaking tourists, according to Ms. McWilliams.

“It’s difficult for people who don’t know about Stone Valley to even find it,” she said.

Better signage is one of the first steps the town will take to draw in more kayakers. New signs will probably be installed before next summer.

Another priority is making kayakers safer. The town takes no responsibility for those who risk the rapids, boaters ride at their own risk. In 2002, the first release of the Colton Dam, kayaker and medical doctor Richard Ginsburg, 50, died after being trapped at the bottom of a waterfall.

There have been no fatalities since, but Ms. McWilliams said she plans to find someone to provide swift-water-rescue training to area residents before next summer to assist in case of future emergencies.

Other plans to lure tourists may take a bit longer to come to completion.

The Colton Fire Department is planning to relocate within the next few years, abandoning its station near the head of the Stone Valley hiking trail. This station may be renovated to provide restrooms and changing rooms for kayakers.

The town is also planning a handicapped-accessible overlook for spectators near the trailhead.

Canton and Potsdam do not have the same natural rapids and waterfalls as Colton, but both villages are exploring the possibility of adding artificial whitewater features along certain stretches of the Raquette River and Grasse River to draw more tourists.

“The main point is to get more people downtown to Potsdam to use the river for recreation,” said Frederick J. Hanss, Potsdam’s Planning and Development director.

Potsdam’s large college population would be likely to use a kayak park, Mr.Hanss said, making it a valuable addition to the village.

Potsdam is beginning to look for experts to conduct a feasibility study to see what constructing the park would entail. The study will likely begin before the end of the year.

Safety is key, Mr. Hanss said, both to protect riders and the environment.

“You want to make sure you don’t cause any environmental damage,” he said. “That’s critical.”

Walking trails, picnic areas, bike racks and benches will all be constructed to support the new park if it is built.

Whitewater parks built in Canton or Potsdam would be geared for beginner and intermediate kayakers, those not yet ready to tackle Stone Valley’s raging rapids.

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