Kayak Race in Cuyahoga Falls Gorge

Canada Goose Feeding in Cuyahoga River Gorge
Canada Goose Feeding in Cuyahoga River Gorge

Last Saturday, April 23, the Canada Goose shown in the photo above was happily grazing on underwater vegetation covering the rocks on the edge of a waterfall in the Cuyahoga River Gorge, just below the restaurant of the Sheraton Suites in my hometown of Cuyahoga Falls. The goose’s webbed, clawed feet allowed the bird to maintain a firm grip on the slippery rocks in the strong current, and from time to time it would even balance on one leg and appear to take a snooze, oblivious to the tumbling water nearby. Occasionally, like a seaplane, the goose would lift off and fly to the edge of the river, then return to its precarious position on the lip of the falls to resume its lunch a few minutes later.

Kayakers Approaching Rookie Drop Falls in the Cuyahoga River Gorge
Kayakers Approaching Rookie Drop Falls in the Cuyahoga River Gorge

Lacking wings with waterproof feathers and webbed feet with claws, the kayakers practicing for the kayak race that day sported waterproof clothing, crash helmets, and personal flotation devices (PFDs), and wedged themselves into sleek fiberglass kayaks propelled by muscle power and double-bladed paddles. Upstream, the dam at Lake Rockwell, just north of Kent, had been opened to allow a generous supply of water into the Cuyahoga River to ensure excellent conditions for the one-day white water kayaking event.  Three years earlier, two century-old 10-foot dams were removed in the gorge to create a half-mile of churning Class II white water with two Class V waterfalls requiring expert kayaking skills.

Kayaker on Rookie Drop
Kayaker on Rookie Drop
Kayaker Running Rookie Drop
Kayaker Running Rookie Drop

The lower falls, called Staircase by the kayakers, appeared to be the most difficult to negotiate, and I watched several kayakers get caught in the undertow below the falls. Fortunately, they were all able to extricate themselves and complete the half-mile course.

Kayaker running Staircase Falls
Kayaker Running Staircase Falls
Kayaker Running Staircase Falls
Kayaker Running Staircase Falls
Guiding a Capsized Kayak

This was my first attempt to photograph a kayak race, and a Google session prior to the event failed to produce much in the way of advice. I used a 70-200mm f/4 zoom lens on my Nikon D7200 camera, hand-held at ISO 400. I set the aperture to f/8, and the shutter speeds varied from about 1/500 to 1/2500 of a second. I panned the camera to keep the kayaker in the frame, and set the shutter release on Continuous (High) to shoot a burst of images. The D7200 does not have an especially fast frame rate, but it produces a 24-megapixel image, which can be cropped considerably if needed. All of my images were made from the rocks adjoining the Sheraton Suites. I would have liked to clamber down to the wet rocks at the edge of the river, which provided a better angle for photography, but I did not have a PFD and a fall into the white water would have had very serious, if not fatal, consequences.

About a mile downstream from the end of the Cuyahoga Falls Gorge, the 57-foot Edison Dam, built in 1919, stands atop the submerged waterfall that gives Cuyahoga Falls its name. Removing that dam, a $70 million project, will greatly improve the health of the Cuyahoga River, as well as revealing the long-lost waterfall and creating another mile of white water for kayakers. About $57.5 million of the cost will be needed to remove the contaminated silt that has built up in the lake above the dam.

For more information on this and many other projects underway to protect and restore the Cuyahoga River, visit the website of the Friends of the Crooked River, at: www.cuyahogariver.net

For more information on kayaking and canoeing, visit the website of the Keelhaulers Canoe Club, at: www.keelhauler.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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