As race participants floated on the starting line, all eyes turned skyward: an eagle flew overhead.

Last Saturday, 60 paddlers converged on the west branch of Keuka Lake for the first annual Keuka 5k Paddle. Locals from Penn Yan and Dundee, and folks from as far afield as Fairport and Irondequoit, cruised through a 3.1 mile course in their kayaks and canoes to support the Finger Lakes Museum and Aquarium.

Located on the banks of Sugar Creek in Branchport, the mission of the museum is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of the cultural heritage and ecological evolution of the Finger Lakes Region. And there’s no better source of inspiration than getting out on the waters of the Crooked Lake itself.

“We have just shy of 30 acres to work with, so doing a paddling program is the easiest thing to allow us to live out our mission,” says Natalie Payne, Executive Director of the FLM&A. “It enables people to get out there to enjoy, explore and learn more about one of our fresh water resources.”

Race participants put their boats in the water at the FLMA’s public kayak and canoe launch. The wheelchair accessible floating dock sits adjacent to the recently completed barn of the Creekside Center, which serves as the museum’s kayak and canoe livery.

The museum has ten 10-foot Old Town single kayaks, two 16-foot tandem kayaks, and two 16-foot canoes — along with all the necessary paddles and life jackets — supplied by Reagan’s Canoe and Kayak Livery in Himrod. The boats are used in the FLM&A’s current lineup of paddling programs. Anyone interested in getting out on the water can register for upcoming programs at the FLM&A website:

www.fingerlakesmuseum.org. The FLM&A is also hosting a free Community Paddling Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m Saturday, Aug. 13., as an opportunity to try out the boats and develop some experience as a paddler. Pre-registration is encouraged for this free event.

The museum’s kayaks and canoes are not currently available for rental. However, Payne says that is something the FML&A will be considering for next year.

Funds from the 5k paddle event – along with those to be raised by a crowdfunding campaign planned for late August or September – will be used to develop boardwalks, viewing platforms and pathways throughout the 16-acre Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve Wetlands along Sugar Creek.

The wetlands are home to a wide range of birds and aquatic life. Paddling down the creek to the startling line at the outlet to Keuka Lake revealed the often hidden world of king fishers, blue and green herons, painted turtles and soft-shelled turtles sunning themselves on fallen logs, and swarms of giant blue and red dragonflies chasing smaller insects and each other.

As race participants floated on the starting line, all eyes turned skyward: an eagle flew overhead.

It was just the sort of experience Payne wants visitors to have every time they come to the museum. “It keeps people wanting to come back to this area,” she says.

Payne says Taryn Windheim at Finger Lakes Racing and Events, and Pat Atkinson, a volunteer for FLM&A, deserve a special mention for co-leading this year’s 5k event.

The top male paddler was Dan Murn of Fairport, who finished first overall with a time of 25:45. The top female paddler was Jenna Owens of Penn Yan, who finished sixth overall with a time of 37:10.