These boats don’t float

By Meg Olson

The Point Roberts Parks and Recreation District has cancelled its kayak program for the fifth year in a row and commissioners are looking at ways to restructure the program.

“At least this gives me plenty of time to look for someone who can do it next year,” said parks district commissioner Bennett Blaustein ruefully at the district’s July 8 meeting after announcing that the program had been cancelled due to the lack of a qualified instructor.

In its current format, participants in the program pay $50 annually for a one-time training course in kayak safety and the opportunity to use one of the district’s kayaks during the summer months.

The program has struggled with hiring a qualified instructor for several years but Blaustein said he felt the liability issues of novice kayakers using district equipment highlighted an even greater need for an instructor. “We want to address the concerns about novice people taking out the kayaks by possibly restructuring,” he said, suggesting weekly paddles led by the instructor in addition to training classes.

Board member Holly Robinson suggested they remove rather than add limits to how the kayaks can be used. “I’m concerned we are necessarily restricting the activity,” she said. “Don’t they sign a waiver of liability? I have a lot of friends who come here and are kayakers and would love to have access to a kayak. I would think our goal should be to maximize usage.” Robinson suggested the district could offer the kayaks as rentals. Additional insurance needed for potentially increased liability would be covered by rental fees.

Board member Stephen Falk said “From a legal standpoint, we could probably cover ourselves just fine with appropriate paperwork. Not that safety isn’t a consideration, but it limits the program.”

Falk suggested the district could offer both rentals and classes or guided paddles, depending on what users felt they needed or wanted. “It’s not our job to decide who needs training,” Robinson added.

Meghan Kelly, the district’s program and facilities coordinator suggested the district could consider bicycle rentals as well, since Pedal Pushers bike shop no longer offered the once popular option to visitors.

Blaustein was leery of the suggestion, suggesting that Pedal Pushers had stopped offering rentals “because of the liability and the high, high, high cost of insurance for that specific activity of renting bicycles.”

Robinson asked Kelly to look into the district’s insurance for renting both kayaks and bicycles. “I can’t imagine a kayak is safer than a bicycle,” she said. “We are a government entity with significant liability insurance.”

Robinson encouraged her fellow commissioners to look into more ways to broaden their offerings, from rentals to classes.

“We’re in the business of recreation and that’s what we should be offering more of,” she said. “If people want to take a kayak safety course, we should offer it. If people want to take a class in bike maintenance, we should offer it. There are a lot of things we can do feasibly and inexpensively.”

Kayak as well as bike rentals could offer people a less structured way to explore the Point. “With the collapse of the kayak program as it has been we need to be looking at other models.”

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