Now streaming: PaddleBR is making kayaking and canoeing more accessible for everyone

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Five months. That’s how long it took friends Nathaniel Klumb and Mike Tilley to painstakingly transform Bayou Fountain into a paddling trail starting in October of 2013. Five months of weekends spent clearing some two dozen obstructions, including a 65-yard logjam that could be seen from an aerial view on Google Earth. A labor of love, the work fueled a dream that grew with each stick, log and piece of litter removed. A dream to not just create a maneuverable paddling route, but to spur a larger movement within the Capital City.

“In Louisiana, there’s water everywhere, but non-trespassing areas to do things like paddle are a precious commodity,” explains Klumb, who along with Tilley founded PaddleBR, a local group focused on paddling and waterway beautification, out of these initial efforts. “This started because I wanted to have an easier place to paddle, but it has really grown.”

Bringing the newly cleared route to the attention of BREC, Klumb and Tilley campaigned for a launch to be built to make Bayou Fountain even more accessible for locals. BREC’s kayak and canoe launch at Highland Road Community Park officially opened to the public in April 2017.

“There were a few people coming out after we got the route cleared,” Tilley recalls. “But now, since the launch, people are out there daily. It’s great to see.”

But the recreation side of their paddling initiative was just part of the goal. For years before Klumb and Tilley got their hands dirty removing bayou obstacles, they were dedicated to litter cleanup on Louisiana’s waterways. Klumb recalls trips to the Amite River where he would fill canoes with massive amounts of trash, being forced to leave much behind due to the enormous scale of the problem. But the same goes for bayous, streams and manmade lakes within the Baton Rouge city limits. Trash is a constant issue that the pair say is one of the main focuses of their PaddleBR efforts.

“We see stuff that the general public doesn’t see,” Tilley says of the cleanups, which often involve 30-plus volunteers picking up litter while on the water. “It takes dedicated volunteers and a grassroots effort like ours, but it makes a difference.”

PaddleBR is also making a difference through a partnership with BREC that sees them hosting events like sunset paddles to introduce people to paddling, as well as fundraisers like the Pets N’ Paddling event held periodically to raise money for Friends of the Animals.

“Our flagship event, though, which we are hoping to bring back post-COVID, is a paddle-in movie in the middle of University Lake,” Klumb says, noting that he and Tilley use a custom-made movie dock and provide themed snacks to coincide with the chosen film. “This is my passion project. It’s hard work but it’s always rewarding.”