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Water enthusiasts ready for inaugural Blueway Festival in East Rockaway

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Hundreds of canoers, kayakers, paddle boarders and rafters are set to hit the water Saturday in East Rockaway for the inaugural South Shore Blueway Festival at Hewlett Point Park.

The Town of Hempstead is hosting the event, which is free and open to the public, and is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The days’ activities will include many races and relays, paddling expeditions and guided tours of the South Shore’s back bays, as well as lessons and demonstrations in kayaking, standup paddle boarding and standup paddle board yoga. Hosts will also teach attendees about the ecosystem.

“We are trying to bring more people into the waterways to gain an appreciation for our waterways on the South Shore and for all the wildlife and the great preserve we have,” said Tara Schneider-Moran, a conservation biologist for the Town of Hempstead. “So we thought it would offer people an opportunity to get out there in the bay and experience it in a different way.”

Schneider-Moran said some of the activities would also include a “Paddle for Pop” event in honor of Father’s Day, and a “Bash for Trash” activity where guests will participate in a beach cleanup as the hosts educate them about the dangers of littering.

The South Shore Blueway Trail opened two years ago and includes 22 launches and landings, spanning 50 miles of coastline and encompassing 42,000 acres of waterways from the western border of the Town of Hempstead to the border line of Nassau and Suffolk counties in Oyster Bay. The goal of launching the trail was to reconnect South Shore residents with nature, while also providing safe access to waterways. There are several parks, historical sites, natural areas and attractions along the trail.

Discussion to create the trail began in 2006, and it was launched in June 2016. Grants from the state, county, Town of Hempstead and the Village of Freeport have been used to further its progress. Future access points are planned at Inwood Park, in Inwood, Cedar Creek Park, in Seaford, Newbridge Road Park, in Bellmore and Seamans Neck Park, in Seaford.

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said the trail provides opportunities for economic growth by increasing property values, tourism and recreation-related spending.

“The Town of Hempstead’s beautiful waterfront is one of our greatest assets,” Gillen said. “We want our residents to take a second look at all life enhancing activities that exist right here in our own backyard.”

A few hundred people attended the grand opening of the trail two years ago, and town officials said they were hoping to have a similar turnout for the festival. Gillen said the goal is to turn the event into an annual summer spectacle.

“The Blueway Trail Festival will undoubtedly become a tradition for residents, visitors and boaters of all ages and experience levels,” she said. “We want to see the South Shore become a premier destination for these fast growing, beneficial activities.”