Floating fun helps First Step services

Staff Writer Published June 19, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Todd Whestine fights the current as he paddles through the white caps on Lake Ouachita during the Remmel to Rockport Regatta.

— More than 300 people jumped into canoes and kayaks and onto a variety of floating watercraft just below the Remmel Dam on June 7 for a fun trip down the Ouachita River.

With a break in the recent rainy weather, the Remmel to Rockport Regatta brought out those looking to challenge the light-to-moderate rapids on the six miles of the river route. Participants then enjoyed music and food at the end of the trip at White Water Park. All the events benefited First Step Arkansas, an organization whose programs serve children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Nancy Baxter, director of development for the First Step Foundation, said First Step Arkansas began in 1958 and offers services for 259 children and 48 adults from its Malvern office. The organization, headquartered in Hot Springs, has seven offices in all and provides service for more than 2,000 people in 27 counties, primarily in south Arkansas.

“Entergy released water for us early today at the dam so there would be faster current on this part of the river,” said Angie Bell, special events coordinator for First Step Foundation in Hot Springs and an organizer for the event. “It takes between three and four hours to come down the river and assemble here at the park.”

This was the second annual Regatta, but the first time the complete event could be held in one day.

Aerah Hardin, director of the First Step office in Malvern, said rains were a problem last year.

“Because of the weather we could not do everything at once last year,” she said. “We had the music and barbecue that day, but we had to postpone the trip down the river.”

Bell said the registration fees paid by those who traveled down the river raised more than $23,500 for First Step.

This year’s event also included a chance to learn more about enjoying the white-water rapids, including the Rockport Ledge, a line of stones across the Ouachita with rapids that are ranked as Class II difficulty. The ledge is less than 30 yards upriver from the park’s boat ramp.

Todd Whetstine of Chester was one of a group of more-experienced kayakers trying out the ledge. They would take part in the Kayak Rodeo and teach white-water techniques and safety procedures after most of the participants of the Regatta came to the end of their six-mile float.

The event began at 1 p.m., when participants signed up at White Water Park, then headed to the launch area near Remmel Dam for the trip down the Ouachita. By 5 p.m., most had returned, and the tired participants were served barbecue from Smokin’ in Style BBQ in Hot Springs. Live music from Tracy Yarbrough closed out the event.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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