PHOENIX - Life by the River, especially one by the Lock 1 locale in Phoenix, means an opportunity to paddle off in any meaningful direction and even reach out for the stars or far corners of the world – a geographic truth that few people realize. For what many consider a small bedroom community, it’s a setting that still boldly brings vision for a bright future – committed to expanding those ripples that wake out from its canalside shores.
Village administrator Jim Lynch has long been involved in advancing the needs and opportunities presented to Phoenix, making it a point to create networks of support throughout the community. As he began envisioning a Henley Park and village that could support and even grow community services beyond the Bridge House Brats and ongoing local program activities in and around the park and river, his thoughts turned towards a real Welcome Center for the village, including the Bridge House and Museum, as well as additional opportunities to make many riverside activities more desirable and accessible. An actual Community Services department is not out of the realm of possibility and need, when the vision plays out.
Although few like to talk about it, even the reality of the Bridge House Brats program comes into question. Lynch speaks it out loud in full support of everything that has grown thus far. “What happens when Cathy Lee is no longer able to corral and manage the Bridge House Brats and village programs in the park – how will that great program be covered?” He believes that the river, Lock 1 and Canal offers a real chance to advance recreational opportunities. The boat docks and park services are constantly growing, and there is every reason to expand on all that. There have been efforts to encourage canoeing and kayaking but without a place, space, services (instruction, life vests etc.) and accessibility, the draw has been slow. Lynch even sees opportunities for swimming lessons, echoing a local view – ‘shouldn’t every kid who grows up near the water learn to swim?’
At one point Lynch spoke to a trustee from CiTi BOCES on the subject of how CTE (Career/Technical Education) programs encourage students to engage in projects for the community in many fields. From welding to building to graphic design, partnership projects are possible. It made Lynch very interested in the possibility of a Welcome Center construction project for Phoenix.
“Of course I wanted something really cool looking – an octagon shape or tower on top”, Lynch laughed. He admits the expectation of rolled eyes, knowing the kind of cost that could come with that kind of cool.
But in a later conversation, the CiTi rep told Lynch about “this tiny house they had built”. The village could acquire it for no cost. It needed to be finished (outside and inside), so they came together and made an agreement. The little building got finished, they painted the railings and deck on it blue and white, and it got delivered to Henley Park.
“We own it. We maintain it. And at the end of life, we dispose of it,” says Lynch. Made possible by CiTi BOCES and the village of Phoenix, they had a building. The next question was, “Now that we have it, what is its purpose?” posed Lynch.
As networking paths would have it, as things began to come together with CiTi, along came Jennifer Mays – owner and operator of Oswego Expeditions out of Oswego – looking for a new opportunity. Mays and Oswego Expeditions began offered kayak rentals and tours at Selkirk Park, beginning in 2015. As it became established, they set up shop in the Port of Oswego over the last couple of years, where they now offer a range of recreational services.
Mays said she always had a vision of merging her interest and services together around health, nature/outdoors and history. Oswego Expeditions has evolved to just that. It offers historical, educational, and recreational activities throughout upstate NY. Touting a focus on their website that highlights “Education through Exploration” expeditions, Mays and other tour guides present services that touch on the history of Oswego, Lake Ontario, the Oswego and Salmon Rivers, New York Nature Preserves and Parks including the Adirondacks. They have also done guided walking and biking historical tours around Oswego, as well as hiking, mountaineering, and guided snowshoe treks.
Phoenix was an intriguing second location, allowing the kayak rental and tour company to expand their range to Lock 1 along the Oswego Canal, into the Three Rivers sections of river and canal locks, and even draw friends north into grand adventures.
“People don’t realize how much there is to our canal,” says Lynch. “We are Lock 1– the first stop – connecting us to the Great Lake and even out to the Atlantic Ocean.”
When Lynch and Mays got talking about the possibilities, it was a short paddle from shore to giving the partnership a try. Since the tiny blue house showed up in Henley Park, Mays has been working through set up, and specifics to entice the community. Right away she says they set up a tour with the Phoenix Mayor, kayaking to Treasure Island. Soon colorful kayaks showed up, along with hopes and plans for much more.
Although some might consider it late in the season, there are great opportunities available through Oswego Expeditions. As an organization, they have up to 25 kayaks available, although not all (only about eight) will be on site in Henley Park on any given day. Large groups need reservations in advance.
They got started with hours, opening from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, “to see how it works”. The plan is to have rental of bikes and kayaks daily – offering tours, and rentals, to individuals and groups. Guided tours, such a favorite ‘sunset tours’ must be reserved in advance.
Of course it is weather dependent. “Lightning always cancels,” Mays says.
Those interested in kayak rental can make an appointment or reservation, or take a chance. Kayaks and life vests are provided, with two youth kayaks and appropriate vests available as well. Oswego Expeditions also offers free helmets for bike rentals, which are an option for age 10 and up. Reservations or information can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling or texting 315-561-0223. Payment for services can be made by using a credit card or cash.
In addition to individual rentals or even small tours, Mays and her group like to do group outings – for corporations, team building for students and teachers, employee appreciation events, hospitals and schools. Events can be stand alone or in combination with a group picnic or other activity. Oswego Expeditions expects to run the River through October, and also have hopes of adding to their year round outdoor business with guided snowshoeing and associated rentals.
For now, both Oswego Expeditions and the village of Phoenix are focused on the remainder of the summer and fall, and paddling their way towards an exciting future. Already Oswego Expeditions has partnered with Erie Canalways National Heritage Corridor to promote the Canalways Challenge, to include the Oswego Canal as a destination, and hopefully get more people connected to Phoenix and Lock 1.
Both Lynch and Mays talk about making the far end of the current Henley Park boat docks handicapped accessible, with development of a special dock and launch area. There are discussions with Move Along, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to adaptive sports and recreation, in hopes of bringing that joyful wake to shore. Move Along has worked in basketball, tennis, hockey and with other recreation elements to improve handicapped access, including adaptive paddling. “We are hoping to use their expertise not only in this way locally, but perhaps for the install of an adaptive launch,” Mays says.
Although the instinct, by both village and Mays, is generally to ‘Get it Done’, they both concede that they want it to be done right, and are pursuing a grant to assist with the adaptive launch installation. “What this would mean is that, eventually, we hope that even those in wheelchairs can go paddling,” says Mays, “I would be trained on the equipment and for paddling. Then Phoenix could be a host site so groups could even come here.”
To bring all these ideas together with the new blue addition at the Bridge House home, Oswego Expeditions essentially becomes a partner that enhances the Henley Park, and possible Welcome Center opportunities. Someday, the building may double as a community service site, offering boater supplies like ice, or even hose clamps and hardware.
Additionally, Lynch is still in discussions with CiTi BOCES about the possibility of more “tiny homes” … that vision includes maybe converting Lock Island into a small campground, “to utilize our resources there, and partner with BOCES,” says Lynch. He likes the idea of these ‘neat, little cabin options’ for people to stay in, instead of any worry about a ‘tent city’ look along the Lock. With the right finishing touches on the buildings, those kind of camping spaces would “only add to the aesthetic appeal along the canal,” Mays adds.
In the mean time, Henley Park continues to be a ‘place to be’ along the river, with concerts on Monday and Friday nights and a fun night of Car Cruisin’ classic cars on Lock Island, Fridays as well. The next big event push is Locktoberfest, coming to Phoenix with dozens of vendors, raffles, music, and even a nine-minute fireworks display, from noon-10 p.m. on Oct. 5.
Adding something seemingly as simple as a tiny blue house may be intriguing, but it also sparks a direction and wave that those involved expect to ride all along the village shores. Emerging ideas recently focused on branding Phoenix in ways that enhance its universal appeal. The village has started a campaign highlighting “_________ by the River” and are even generating an emblem reflecting the idea to be displayed. “Everyone can fill in what they enjoy,” says Lynch, “pointing out that the community is “getting into it.”
“We’ve seen “Policing – by the River”, “Music – by the River”, “Reading – by the River” – you can do anything, Industry, History, Boating – by the River,” says Lynch. “We’re looking for input from the public too. We’re looking to build that “Pride” of Phoenix – an opportunity for loyalty and sense of togetherness,” he adds.
As colorful kayaks and paddles now grace the canalside grounds daily this summer, only adding to the flag-flying pride of Phoenix, the village administrator Jim Lynch and the paddling princess of Henley Park Jennifer Mays, are hopeful in both partnership and possibility.
“I’m really optimistic that it will all work,” says Lynch, “Build it, they will come – it’s really born out for us.”
They both truly believe, “If we work to grow it – and get people turned on to the place and activities,” says Mays, “great things can happen!”
And really, what could be better for “Life by the River”?