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Canalside offers fun on and off the water as the summer season approaches

If boats are your thing, Canalside may be just the place to go.

Prefer a stroll along the water? Canalside offers that, too.

For the first time, the downtown site also provides a quick way to cross the Buffalo River.

The summer season officially gets underway Saturday, and there’s more to do on Buffalo’s waterfront than ever before.

“Those who said Buffalo doesn’t have a waterfront to be proud of can now say we have an extraordinary waterfront,” said Sam Hoyt, an Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. board member. “Especially when you look at where we were seven or eight years ago, when the canals and HarborCenter were a vacant lot.”

Also coming to the canals: ice cream and smoothie refreshments, craft beer, bike rentals and entertainment on the Commercial Street Bridge.

The canals have been transformed from an ice rink to an 18-inch pool filled with 487,000 gallons of water.

“We want to appeal to the masses, and make this a fun place to come down. I expect this will be a destination for office workers to also come and hang out,” said Tom Dee, the waterfront agency’s president.

Yellow paddle boats, with blue wheels, are geared for children 3 and older and weighing up to 70 pounds.

On Thursday, a smiling Annabel Martin, 8, and her sister Natalie, 6, rode around in the boats while their mom watched. Each held onto the paddle boat’s handle and cranked it, causing the wheel to turn paddles that made the motion.

“There really wasn’t a learning curve, and the girls liked it immediately,” said Chris Martin of Amherst.

The paddle boats and the pedal boats are owned by Lisa and Peter Florzak, who provided ice bikes over the winter. They also offer water bikes for use in the river.

Pedaling in water

The foot-powered white-and-blue pedal boats are like riding a bike.

A group of Waterfront Elementary School sixth graders enthusiastically tried out the pedal boats, generally intended for those in middle school or older.

“A lot of kids hadn’t been to Canalside before, and they’re having a blast,” said Chris Stephens, a teacher who accompanied the students.

Racing model boats

Remote-controlled model boats are being brought to Buffalo by the same operator that has presented them for the past five years in Central Park, where they’ve been a tradition for over a century.

The small sailboats don’t have a motor and are wind driven, with one dial controlling the rudder and the other the sail.

“It’s old-time sailing,” said John Barbieri, director of project development for Freeze Frame.

“It takes a very specific location to make this worthwhile operationally, and fun for everybody, and this area exceeded our expectations,” said Barbieri. “It is absolutely gorgeous down here. From talking to locals, everyone is very optimistic about the area, and that’s a big thing for us.”

There will be a fleet of 15 boats.

Buffalo Model Boat Club members Ron Brounshidle, Doug Hemingway and Bill Shores gave the boats a try Thursday.

“We’re trying to get young people into the hobby, and we hope this will help,” Brounshidle said.

“We race all the time,” Hemingway said. “You use the same rules as full-sized boats, and it’s not as easy as it looks.”

The prices for the boating activities are not cheap.

The pedal boats are $10 for 20 minutes. The paddle boats are $5 for 20 minutes. And the model boats will cost $11 plus tax for 30 minutes.

Ferry crossing

The Queen City Bike Ferry made its official debut Friday, traversing the 650-foot distance between Canalside’s Commercial Slip and First Buffalo River Marina on the Outer Harbor.

The 50-foot-long ferry, painted in school bus yellow and fire truck red, only needs about 7 minutes, when there isn’t boat traffic, to make the trip. A ride costs $1.

Passengers can take bikes across and explore the Buffalo Lighthouse, Times Beach, Wilkeson Pointe and Buffalo Harbor State Park.

Nautical playground

The state park is putting the finishing touches on a nautically-themed playground and two large picnic pavilions.

The playground equipment includes a tube slide, climbing cubes and a balancing bar for toddlers. It’s all surrounded by soft rubber matting in wavy patterns of lime green, navy and sky blue, orange and black.

The landscaping includes berms that vary the topography and help mask nearby parking lots.

Pedals for rent

Sponsor BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York is providing 46 bikes for rental, 34 of them for adults, 10 for children and two for people who are less steady on a bike.

They rent for $15 an hour, $20 for two hours and $25 for three hours, with promotions expected to provide discounts.

Biking the other side

Justin Booth, who leads Go Bike Buffalo, is excited about the ferry’s ability to take bikers – especially families – to the Outer Harbor.

“I think it’s really accessible, and it’s a great and safe bike path because you don’t have to ride with vehicles. It’s a way to experience the playgrounds but also the beautiful nature and preserves there for people to see,” Booth said.

He likes riding on Fuhrmann Boulevard north to the lighthouse.

“It has a phenomenal off-road pathway through there,” Booth said.

“On the other side of Route 5, there are paths that bring you to Tifft Nature Preserve, which is also a nice ride,” he said.

Fruity refreshment

DeChantell Lloyd will offer Code Blu Juices and Smoothies, including mostly vegan “grab ‘n’ go” meals, on the Commercial Street Bridge. Jeff Vandermast will sell Bryce’s Ice Cream, which is also sold at Clinton’s Dish.

There will also be music, with “Battle of the Bands” on Fridays, “DJ Series” on Saturdays and “Acoustic Sunsets” on Sundays.

Paddle board yoga, karaoke and paint parties will also be held.

Canalside will also have history tours among the 1,000 activities and events the waterfront agency has planned.

The Boardwalk Carnival runs Saturday through Memorial Day, with 16 rides and games for children.

Fans of whimsical art can also see “Shark Girl” now relocated to Commercial Street, by the canals’ western entrance, and “Silent Poets” at the Central Wharf.

Liberty Hound restaurant, Clinton’s Dish, the children’s beach sand play area and the colorful Adirondack chairs are all back.

“There are physical activities, water activities, entertainment, food, things for kids,” Dee said. “And for those who still haven’t experienced the fun and excitement because of parking concerns, parking is abundant.”