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Beautiful day at North Park produces kayak converts

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Saturday's clear skies and warm temperatures left Mike Gianechini with no reason to stay indoors.

“It's gorgeous,” said Gianechini, 34, of Mars as he waited to hop in a kayak. “My friend is in from out of town; it's a beautiful day. ... We're going to spend as much time outdoors as possible.”

Gianechini wasn't the only person drawn to North Park on the opening day for bike and boat rentals, as hundreds of visitors arrived throughout the day to go out on the water.

The rental program at the North Park Boathouse has become increasingly popular and is one way in which the county is working with outside groups to offer new amenities for visitors.

Since 2011, Allegheny County has contracted with the nonprofit Venture Outdoors to manage equipment rentals. The program has expanded and now has 40 kayaks, four canoes, two rowboats, two paddleboats and six bicycles.

With the opening last year of Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe, the boathouse has become a key attraction at North Park, said Vanessa Bashur, who runs the rental program for Venture Outdoors.

“We're getting a lot of people coming to the restaurant and saying, ‘Oh, I didn't even know you were here,' ” Bashur said.

On Saturday, boats were being pushed into the water almost as quickly as they were returned. An hour and a half after rentals opened, Bashur estimated she had served 100 people. Fast currents on the Allegheny River closed that option for kayak rentals, sending boaters to North Park, where they could enjoy calmer lake water.

The park is a kayaking destination in its own right, especially as Venture Outdoors stepped up promoting it to the public through social media. Last year, Venture Outdoors expanded its weekday hours at North Park and did more than 9,000 rentals, up 50 percent from 2012, according to Joey-Linn Ulrich, Venture Outdoors' executive director.

The lake's flat water makes it a good place for beginning kayakers, Bashur said. Saturday's inviting weather convinced people such as Jill Kelly to give it a try.

Kelly, 52, and her husband moved to Gibsonia from New Jersey last fall and said they visit North Park regularly to walk or run.

On Saturday, with her children visiting from out of town, Kelly's family opted to get out on the water. Her 28-year-old son, Spencer, is an experienced kayaker. Still, it is an activity in which two people of different skill levels can participate together, she said.

After coming in from an hour on the lake, Kelly said she was a convert.

“I want to buy a kayak now,” she said.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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