Rafting revived on the Susquehanna with the Rieger Regatta
In the early 1980s in Tioga County, N.Y., rafting on the Susquehanna was a large event that attracted many from the region to descend down the winding Susquehanna River on their homemade crafts. But the river rafting soon ended until 47-year-old Jeffrey Rieg, a 1985 Owego Free Academy graduate, prompted a revival of sorts.
This revival, according to Rieg, took off slowly, with 130 people arriving with a dozen rafts at the first event. Now, in its fourth year, the rafting, dubbed the Rieger Regatta, is expected to exceed the 400 participants, and 20 rafts that arrived last year - some of which, according to Rieg, will be traveling from as far as Alaska and Florida to participate, and regionally from all over Tioga County, N.Y. and the Sayre and Athens, Pa. area.
"I thought some day, someone would get it going again," said Rieg during a recent interview of river rafting. Little did Rieg know, at that time, that he would be the one to spur the revival.
On Aug. 2, beginning at the Hickories Park boat launch in Owego, N.Y., the Rieger Regatta will kick off, and the rafts will spend about 10 hours on the water as they make their way to the boat launch by the Highway Department in Nichols, N.Y. at the conclusion of the event. From there, according to Rieg, participants will have their rides pick them up to take them back to Owego, and the rafts will be pulled out of the water at the Nichols boat launch once their vehicles are secured.
And the planning for the annual Regatta, as well as the creativity that goes into it, is what the 47-year-old contractor and UPS employee claims to be the best part of it all.
For most participants, the work begins by taking old 55-gallon drums, or similar buoys, and then using plywood, 2x4s, or pallets. They are built, primarily, like boats, although Rieg noted that some participate in kayaks, canoes, and even pool floats.
And most, Rieg noted, are built creatively, with furniture and slides, pirate flags and creative banners. He also added that for his own build it only takes a couple days - once he gets going on it.
At the center of the Regatta, is the party barge - a spectacle for onlookers who witness the rafters as they descend down the river.
Rieg constructs the party barge each year and incorporates a barbecue grill, an area for limbo, and an upper level that contains a few stairs. There is even a slide for those who want to test the murky river waters.
"We have dancing and music on the party barge," said Rieg, "and we even have a port-a-john for those who need to use the facilities." He noted that some participants are known to jump off the upper platform when they reach the deeper waters in the Susquehanna.
"It's a relaxing, drama free day," Rieg added, noting that going down the Susquehanna on a raft reveals the river's beauty.
And the party barge, which is constructed 20' long by 10' wide, with its upper 8' by 10' level, always seems to be the central point for the rafters in their journey.
Participants begin their launch separately, but according to Rieg they often pull together, creating a cluster - a spectacle for those watching from the river's shores.
It's the excitement of the build and the anticipation of the event that keeps participants coming back each year, and is attracting larger numbers as the event consistently grows.
"People have done it, and they can't wait until the next one," said Rieg.
Anyone is welcome to join in the event, and it is free. T-shirts, inscribed with "What happens on the river stays on the river," are also sold each year for $12, with the proceeds donated to a local non-profit.
And, of course, the participants maintain a high level of responsibility. Each participant must have a life jacket, and it is recommended that they leave all of their valuables at home.
Following the event, the participants clean the boat launches, and then Rieg returns to check the river and launches to ensure that nothing is left behind.
For onlookers, you will be able to see them throughout the day on the river in a spectacle reminiscent to the old days of river rafting. You can learn more about their effort on Facebook under "The 4th Annual Rieger Regatta." You can also contact Jeffrey Rieg by calling (607) 765-8729.