By Kellen M. Quigley

Although with lower participation expected than past years, officials for the Great Valley Regatta said the number of people signed up for the trip down Great Valley Creek is at a good amount for this weekend.

Mark Ward, second assistant fire chief at the Great Valley Volunteer Fire Company, which organizes the event, said several factors contributed to the number of registrants being slightly down, but the support is still substantial.

“With the economy, the interest, the conditions — the weather hasn’t been very cooperative,” he said. “We’ve had more, but I think it might have right-sized itself.”

The 45th annual Great Valley Regatta takes place this weekend, with crafts scheduled to take to the creek from Klawitter Road in Great Valley to Route 417 in Kill Buck on Saturday

Although the event was cancelled in 2017 due to torrential rainfall and high water levels, this year the creek is in good shape and water levels are good for casual and experienced sailors alike.

“The water is OK, there’s nothing to be fearful of that way,” Ward said. “When it’s a little highter it’s a little easier to get the boats down, so navigating it will be easier.”

Because the most updated list had 1,700 registrants when the average number is around 2,200, Ward said they plan to allow day-of registration this weekend, as long as those who plan to sign up can pay in cash.

“If there are some people in the neighborhood who would still like to get into it, this will give them the opportunity,” Ward said. “We’re up and ready to go.”

On Saturday morning, regatta participants will float down the Great Valley Creek beginning at the campgrounds on Klawitter Road, a short distance from the firemen’s hall. From there, they’ll encounter a handful of pit stops and end at the bridge that carries Route 417 over the creek between Kill Buck and Salamanca.

That’s been the course for little over a decade. In past years, when the event was still a race, the course ended at Masonic Park in west Salamanca after participants would navigate from the Great Valley Creek onto the Allegheny River.

Although the regatta isn’t as competitive now, there is still a weekend-long party that includes a trip down the creek. This year’s theme is “Revenge of the Nerds,” according to the regatta’s website.

The regatta is the largest fundraising event for the Great Valley Volunteer Fire Company, at $50 per person and $50 per campsite. Last year, the company used about $40,000 of the money to pay for a hose and loose equipment on the department’s new 250-gallon pumper truck.

This year, participants can see ongoing progress of the company’s latest project, renovating the look of the company’s clubhouse building on Depot Street, including a new entryway.

“You’ll see new outside wall covering and then there’s stone about 3 feet up in the front,” Ward said. “We’re replacing the exterior that had been on the building since 1983.”

In recent years, younger volunteers have stepped up into leadership positions on the regatta committee, Ward said, which is one of the reasons it’s been able to continue for four decades. Ward is one of the few fire company members who has been around every year since the first regatta.

“After this many years, it’s like riding a bike. You don’t forget how to do it,” he said. “But we’ve adjusted, we changed, we’ve done what we’ve had to do to make it work.”

Cattaraugus County sheriff’s deputies and New York State Police will be on patrol throughout the weekend in the area. Buses will also bring people back to the campsites after they get out of the creek at the Kill Buck bridge, and trucks will bring the water crafts back.

“The community has supported us in allowing us to have this event, and we want to show our gratitude by giving back to the community in ways that will benefit everybody,” Ward said. “If you’d asked me 45 years ago if I thought this thing would still be going, my response would have been, ‘No way,’ but the guys and ladies have made it work.”