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Kayakers, rowers and canoeists celebrate second Paddle Kitsap.

A string of colorful watercraft will wrap itself around North Kitsap this weekend.

The second annual Paddle Kitsap event begins today in Port Gamble and brings kayakers, rowers and canoeists from across the country into local waters.

“This is one of the premier paddling events in the nation,” said John Kuntz, founder of Paddle Kitsap and president of the Olympic Outdoor Center in Poulsbo. “Some of the reasons you go to an event are the quality of the course, the scenery and the marine life. We have all three of those.”

More than 40 paddlers will spend Friday rowing their way from Port Gamble, around Foulweather Bluff, past Point No Point and into Kingston. After an overnight rest, the group will set out once again on Saturday, sculling past Indianola and Suquamish, through Agate Pass and into downtown Poulsbo. The entire course is about 34 miles long, and should take participants close to 10 hours to complete over two days. Each evening, paddlers will be welcomed ashore with a meal and live music at Kingston’s Mike Wallace Park.

“I kind of define it as a social event wrapped around paddling,” Kuntz said.

Kuntz started Paddle Kitsap in 2008 as a way of including local waterways in the North Kitsap Trails Association’s String of Pearls campaign. The String of Pearls, organized by the Olympic Property Group, seeks to connect North End communities via a series of on- and off-road trails, many of which run through OPG-owned lands.

Kuntz saw the need to preserve not only trails, but local waterways for wildlife and recreational use. He founded Paddle Kitsap as a way of drawing attention to the region’s aquatic resources, and to raise funds for conservation efforts.

“There’s definitely a need for a water trail,” Kuntz said. “The more attention we can draw to (local waterways), the more people can realize what a precious resource it is.”

To build the North Kitsap Water Trail, which will be Paddle Kitsap’s course, Kuntz has worked with tribal, county and port district officials to establish entry and exit points and rest stops for paddlers.

Kuntz hopes others will continue to join in the effort to preserve Kitsap’s waterways.

“As things develop, I think you’ll see more activity as far as conservation goes,” Kuntz said. “We live in a wonderful, beautiful place, and access to the water is one of our gifts.”

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