Yagotta Regatta 2017
GV Fire Department Holds 43 Year Old Boating Tradition
By Chad Neal
This weekend is the ever popular, ever growing, largest weekend in Great Valley…the annual Great Valley Fire Department’s Great Valley “Yagotta” Regatta. Saturday May 6, always the first weekend in May, and on a few occasions the last weekend in April, the event draws thousands of floating enthusiasts from all over the world. Starting from a humble beginning in the early seventies as an answer to another regatta event in Ellicottville, the Great Valley Regatta has become a rather large social event in the farming town, that helps support the Volunteer Fire Department and the community as a whole.
The Villager caught up with Mark Ward, who has been involved since inception of the Great Valley Regatta. He informed the Villager, “in 1974 a few guys were sitting around the Pub (in Great Valley) and talked about the Birdwalk Regatta that ran from the Birdwalk restaurant in Ellicottville to the Great Valley bridge every spring. It started in 1972 or so.” Ward remembered.
Those men, “Ed Lamberson, Don Clarke, Russ Vaughn, Jim Evans and myself,” Ward recalled, planned a regatta from the Great Valley bridge to Masonic Park in Salamanca off of the Allegany River. He also claimed it wasn’t his idea, but he and “Jimmy Evans worked it every year.”
It can be imagined that the first year wasn’t a great turnout, Ward said there were only about 14 boats on the Creek that day, “mostly canoes. And we had five pit stops, the next year the numbers went up.” He also mentioned that soon after- they started the ‘Couples Run’ on the Sunday after the timed regatta. The original Great Valley Regatta was timed with trophies for the winners. The Couples Run ended in Kill Buck at the Kill Buck Bridge where it ends now. They “ran the Couples Run for a good dozen years. And it was mostly husband and wives.” Ward said.
Ward regaled the early years explaining that the Genesee Beer Company was a big sponsor of the event and they would use the distinct white cans, and green cans for the trophies. They gave out 110-120 trophies every year, and at the end of the 80s the amount of boaters was over 300 for the Saturday party. Ward jested saying the cream-ale beer was called the “Green Death”.
Ward continued sharing the history recollecting the size of the crowds growing and growing throughout the years. “It kept getting bigger and bigger, soon we had 6-700 canoes. We could see we couldn’t handle it. We (GVFD) bought 25 acres on Klawitter Road to add camping. From the next event on we saw it (camping) was an instant success. 600-1500 boats and we continued to improve. We added busses and trucks to haul boats and people back from the end back to their campsites. That was about a dozen years ago. Then we decided to end it at the Kill Buck bridge all together because of the high water a certain year as to not have trouble on the river. We knew that most of the participants weren’t skilled canoeists and were there more to ‘socialize’ as they floated down the creek.” Although for years a competitive boater named Jim Gouchee was the all time champ. He canoed all over New York and lives in Port Allegany.
Ward explained that in the past ten years they have eliminated the timing of the regatta and the trophies because no one really seemed to care about it , and were mostly there to “socialize while floating down the creek”. Ward said again, and wondered aloud, “why all these people are still in it, they get a chicken BBQ and beer at the pit stops.”
It is a huge party and that is the reason most of the participants attend, but there are others too. Ward said that he has met three generations of boaters since 1974. “I’ve run into people who have been in it for years.”
It makes for a great organized mid-spring bash as it has evolved through the 40 + years. Ward told the Villager that since it started to grow in numbers due to the camping and transportation, there have also been some bad elements that came along with the good times. “About nine years ago” Ward said, “we started getting a rougher group on the grounds, that’s when the town contracted the Cattaraugus County Sherriff’s Department to control security. We call Klawitter the ‘overflow’, that’s where most of the partying takes place, and the less rowdy crowd camps by the Clubhouse and Firehall in Great Valley”
Ward stated that it is a “phenomenon, and if you told me 43 years ago it would get this big, I’d have said you’re crazy! It’s a well-oiled machine over all the years. People keep coming back, and have a good time. They are always treated as guests and the fire department is always good to the community. We invest in the community and fire equipment. We know people put up with a lot, who live there. We recognize and thank the community for their indulgence. We’ve responded with security, treating our guests with safety. We have ten busses, and 6 or 7 trucks to haul the boats and people. It is done pretty orderly and it takes an awful lot of people to make it happen.”
Ward projected that about 3000-3500 will be coming this year tot the Regatta. “If we didn’t have this event, we couldn’t do the things we can and do, do for the community. We always give back to the community”, he said.