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Rediscovering Columbus: Water

Rediscovering Columbus: Water

Jeni Ruisch

A core workout in the heart of downtown.

For Lisa Daris, growing up on the Cuyahoga River in Kent, Ohio wasn’t just a lovely way to spend afternoons as a kid. It meant living next door to an ecosystem and force of nature that would shape not only the surrounding river valley, but the destiny of a little girl who would grow up to become an ACA Kayak Instructor, and environmental steward for watersheds around the state. She has made being active on the water her business, in more ways than one.

For Daris, who would later become the first person to own and operate a livery on the downtown riverfront, the river was what gave her the sense that being her own boss was where it was at.

“It was my first taste of freedom as a kid,” she said, “being in control of where my boat would take me.”

Living in a city based on a river brings with it many opportunities, and great responsibility.

“Having a river flow through the heart of a city connects its residents to the natural rhythm of the seasons.” Daris points out.

By restoring navigable rivers and creating pedestrian and bike-friendly riverfronts, the cement jungle is balanced with nature. Kayaking in the city provides the same workout and relief from the daily grind as it would in a wilderness area, with the added convenience of proximity. At Olentangy Paddle, guests can meet up with Daris and her team at one of several meetup points to set out on a city water excursion. With the removal of the Fifth Avenue and Main Street dams, the path on the river is clear from Dodridge in Clintonville, to Greenlawn in German Village. That means that Columbusites can get in seven miles of paddling that will take them from the north to the south side, without having to get out and portage their craft over a dam. At the end of the line, at the Scioto Audubon ramp, guests will climb out of the water. If they are up for more, they can rent bikes from Daris, and take the river adjacent trail back up to their starting point. Kayaking focuses on the core muscles more than running or cycling could ever hope to do. Add in a seven mile bike ride, and you’ve just had leg day, bro. Daris offers this option on the Olentangy, Scioto, and Kokosing rivers.

Like many sports, the prep provides part of the workout. Lifting and transporting kayaks is a huge part of the job Lisa and her crew do each day.

“The boats are our personal trainers. Our ‘gym membership’ includes free sunshine.”

The kayak scene is growing in Columbus, too. There are many meetup groups that get together for local excursions. They reap the benefits of improved physical and mental health as they float down the river. Kids and adults that learn to kayak gain confidence and feel safer when they are around water.
Daris, who calls herself a champ at lifting heavy objects over her head, says you haven’t really kayaked if you’ve never tipped over.
Taking on water sports in the city doesn’t have to be a huge plunge.

“There are many places in the Columbus area where you can float in water that is only a couple feet deep with very little current,” Daris reassures. “Don’t let the fear of water scare you from learning how to kayak.”

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