How does it happen that a five-year Rye resident becomes an enthusiastic kayaker, taking and leading trips around the meandering coastline of New York’s northeastern Long Island Sound?
By Bill Lawyer
How does it happen that a five-year Rye resident becomes an enthusiastic kayaker, taking and leading trips around the meandering coastline of New York’s northeastern Long Island Sound? And becomes an advocate for kayaking, as well?
Well, it might have something to do with the fact that that person, Jana Brockman Seitz, grew up in Monroe, Louisiana, a small city on the eastern bank of the Ouachita River, about 275 miles northwest of New Orleans.
And it might also have something to do with the fact that Monroe is only 72 feet above sea level, surrounded by bayous, creeks, and manmade lakes. Eleven percent of the city’s land area is water! Monroe has a long history of being served by waterway transportation – starting with the canoes of Native Americans, followed by the flatboats of French settlers, and then taken over by paddleboats of cotton plantation owners.
Finally, it has something to do with the fact that she headed back to Austin, Texas, after spending several years in New York City studying acting – realizing that she missed “redneck” country and its waterways.
In Austin, she found a job working for a small, non-profit organization called the Texas River School. “They were a bunch of old hippies who were looking for a way to make a living exploring nature by kayak along the Colorado River (not the Colorado River) that flows through the city,” she explained.
She and the staff grew the school, joining with the Texas Rowing Center, which now offers a wide range of educational and recreational opportunities in the area.
Meanwhile, she met and married Andy Seitz, who’d grown up in Rye and had gone to Austin to get a business degree from the University of Texas. Their two children were practically born on the water. While pregnant, she guided the “mother ship” that led groups of kayaking kids on outdoor education adventures.
One of their favorite recreational entertainment projects was “Full Moon Floats”, evening cruises on full-moon nights, with food, live music, and a chance to see the bats that roost under the bridges.
Since she and her family moved to Rye, Seitz has slowly but steadily become the go-to person for kayaking activities at American Yacht Club, including instituting Full Moon Floats.
Jana Seitz has become a one-woman bandleader for wetlands and watersheds protection – up close and personal. One of her first purchases after moving to Rye was a new kayak – and she’s since bought ones for both of her children.
Her enthusiasm for spreading the word about Rye’s natural resources has led her to join the board of the Friends of Edith Read Sanctuary. She’s actively promoting visits to the sanctuary and providing support for its operations. And yes, she’s been kayaking over at Read, as well.
She recounts how back in Austin they used to love going kayaking on Town Lake when water was released from the dam upstream. “It was a great ‘wheee’ experience. Rye kayakers by Read Sanctuary can get the same thrill by ‘running the shoot’ when the tide is going out from Playland Lake into the Sound.”
On a recent Monday afternoon, after previously checking the tide chart to make sure Blind Brook would be high enough to travel by kayak, Seitz and “guest”(this author) launched kayaks at Rye Marina.
We would have started out further upstream, but the dry weather over the past summer has resulted in no real navigable waterway beyond the dam at Rye High School. Downstream by the marina, on other hand, conditions were great for kayaking.
As the two of us proceeded upstream toward the bridge at Oakland Beach Avenue, we picked up an additional companion – Henry Schneider, who just happened to be launching his kayak.
The great acoustics and echo effect of the Oakland Beach Ave bridge inspired our group to sing impromptu versions of pop hits while attracting the interest of a great blue heron and American egret that were perched in among the phragmites and spartina grasses.
After passing under the footbridge by Milton Cemetery, the brook really starts to meander as it passes through the extensive wetlands from there to Playland Parkway.
Quietly paddling our kayaks through this area, we could, as Schneider put it, “be traveling through the Everglades instead of just 25 miles from New York City.”
The large amount of litter that Seitz removed from the water as we passed along, however, reminded us that we were weren’t that far from “civilization.”
By the time we reached the bridge at Playland Parkway, the tide was at its peak height, so we had to keep our heads low to make it safely under – but not without singing a few bars of “Blue Moon”.
On the other side of the bridge, Seitz brought out a long-handled pruning clipper, because other kayakers had forewarned her that some branches had come down and were blocking the way up to the high school. A few strategic clips and we were back on our way. At this point we came upon a number of backyards of people who were clearly taking advantage of their waterfront location, with docks, boats, and even a tree house looking out over the water.
Eventually, our group had to turn back. Savoring the warm, sunny late summer day, we slowly but steadily returned from the Everglades fantasy to the Milton Harbor reality. Anyone looking to know why protecting wetlands is important only has to go for a kayak cruise, right in our backyards.