East End Rowing paddles into downtown Riverhead
If it weren’t for the 27-foot-long, 11-inch-wide racing scull in the front yard, the brown-shingled house at 30 McDermott Ave. in downtown Riverhead probably wouldn’t get more than a passing glance.
But this property isn’t just any abode — it’s the new home of East End Rowing and, after spending more than a decade on a chunk of land in Flanders without a structure to store their equipment, the group and its 35 members are happy to be there.
“There was no indoor anything in Flanders,” said club member Dan Jablonski, who manages East End Rowing’s website. “It was 12 years without a roof, basically. So when [storms] Irene and Sandy came, all the members went down there and had to make sure the boats were tied down and far enough away from the water.”
Fortunately, that sort of hassle is now a thing of the past. In May, East End Rowing entered into a licensing agreement with Riverhead Town that gives the club rent-free use of the McDermott Avenue house. The five-room house was purchased by the town earlier this year for $160,000 and is now the property of the town sewer district, said that district’s superintendent, Michael Reichel.
Mr. Reichel said the town bought the house with the intention of demolishing it to make way for a new pump station, but he does not anticipate that occurring for at least another two years. In the interim, East End Rowing is responsible for paying all utilities at the house, he said.
“There have been so many different locations proposed for the boathouse,” said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “Now, with the sewer district getting this property, it just made sense to put it here.”
This isn’t the first time local government has stepped in to assist the club. A few years ago, East End Rowing was awarded a $90,000 grant from Suffolk County. Part of that money was used to put build a new floating dock on the Peconic River.
“It was just in time because the old wooden ones had given up,” club president Bill Hale said.
The new dock was a plus, but East End Rowing, which was founded in 2001 by Co Rentmeester, Michelle Knox Zaloom, Dan Johnson and Alice and Marty Golden, needed a home base. Club members had hoped to build a boathouse in the form of an addition to the East End Arts building on Riverhead’s East Main Street, but that didn’t pan out, Mr. Hale said.
Now that East End Rowing has a house, Ms. Giglio said town officials are also working on an easement that would allow the town to purchase a pre-fabricated boathouse to put in the home’s backyard. In the meantime, East End Rowing members can store their sculls outside and take a hot shower in the home’s second-floor bathroom after rowing the Peconic River. There are also two rowing machines in an upstairs room, where members can train during the winter.
Club members agree the timing was just right to help firmly establish themselves in downtown Riverhead, which is enjoying a revitalization that East End Rowing hopes to be part of.
“Rowing is exploding across the U.S. right now,” said Mr. Hale. “I think people are finding that they can do it all their life, like golf.”
East End Rowing expects to draw a crowd of at least a thousand people when it hosts its annual Snowflake Regatta on the riverfront Nov. 10. Participation at last year’s event was negatively affected by superstorm Sandy, but 2011’s regatta included 108 entries from 14 rowing clubs.
And when rowers are doing their thing on the Peconic River, Mr. Jablonski said, all eyes are on them.
“Everybody’s got a big old motorboat,” he said. “When you’re rowing a 27-foot-long, 11-inch-wide boat, everyone’s watching you.”