Dear Mountain Mama,
On a recent paddling trip I saw a sign that made me feel unwelcome. It read, “Please remember the following activities are offensive and illegal: changing clothes in public view, blocking traffic with boats or bodies, and drinking alcoholic beverages in public. Citations will be issued.” After I read that, I wanted to leave town.
I mostly paddle in remote areas. Is it common for locals and paddlers to clash?
Dear Feeling Uninvited,
I bristled when I first read the same poster. I thought the one-stop light town in the northwestern corner of Maryland tucked between West Virginia and Pennsylvania was quaint. The cute cafe, the local museum, and the community park intrigued me. I thought about eating at the vegetarian restaurant on the river’s edge after paddling. But then I read the sign, and instead of lingering and exploring, I left and ate at a bigger town.
But then I got to thinking that as much as I have the I’m-on-a-vacation attitude when paddling, the people living in the towns surrounding paddling destinations are home. They probably prefer not to see me nude as I rush to take off my wet gear and put on dry clothes. They probably don’t want their kids to see adults drinking and getting rowdy. They are in the middle of going about their day-to-day errands and it probably gets annoying to have shuttle vehicles blocking their driveways and gear strewn about in the middle of roads.
Since then I’ve visited that small town many times, and now make a point to be polite and kind to locals. I also try to create a better reputation for kayakers by supporting the local economy. I buy postcards, t-shirts, meals, groceries, stay at nearby motels, and participate in community activities. As a result, I’ve had the chance to see guys smash up each others’ cars at a derby and dance in a small town parade.
Feeling Uninvited, like any relationship, the more effort paddlers put into the local communities that surround rivers, the better the end result. Instead of leaving, instead of playing into the paddlers vs. locals dynamic, try to give back to river towns.
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