Soldiers and Family Members enjoyed a unique experience in the North Country during the Fort Drum Rides the River event Thursday at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. This was the third time Fort Drum Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation has offered the event.
Located on the St. Lawrence River, the Antique Boat Museum boasts a large collection of different types of vessels from the luxurious to everyday working boats. In addition to a tour of the museum, Soldiers and Families had an opportunity to take a ride along the St. Lawrence River to view some of the region’s Thousand Islands, learn about North Country history and enjoy a trolley ride through historic Clayton, a waterfront barbecue lunch and children’s activities.
Randy Gillette, Atkins Functional Fitness Facility manager who also helped at the event, said Ride the River event is an opportunity for Soldiers and Families to experience another great asset the North Country has to offer.
Staff members at the museum are big supporters of Fort Drum, and FMWR was excited to forge the partnership, Gillette said.
“They’ve done a wonderful job helping us. They welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “And there’s a great view of the St. Lawrence River. This is a really good Family-oriented day.”
Boats of all sizes and types were available to dazzle and wow event goers.
For those wanting to feel the wind in their hair, they could ride in replicas of antique speed boats. But for those wanting a more leisurely aquatic experience, pontoon boats and rowing skiffs also were available to take attendees around the islands.
Debra Rantanen, a tour guide at the museum, said she and her co-workers really enjoy reaching out to Fort Drum Soldiers and Families. Rantanen added that she enjoys Ride the River the most because she can teach people who may not know a lot about different boats.
“I really love that I can give them a real sense of life on the St. Lawrence River,” she said.
One of the highlights of the event was “La Duchess,” a 106-foot, two-story houseboat owned by hotelier George Boldt. Famous for his Boldt Castle on Heart Island, Boldt had the houseboat built in 1903 as a summer residence.
Andrew McNally purchased La Duchess in the 1940s and later donated it to the museum.
Jacqunita New, a military spouse, said the houseboat was “amazing.” New and her Family recently moved to Fort Drum from Fort Carson, Colo. She said she likes getting to know the area.
“This is an event I’ve been eyeing for a while,” she said. “We’ve been here since June, so every time I see an event, I try to go to it and learn what Fort Drum has to offer.”
Spc. Huy Nguyen, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said this was the first time he and his friends had been to Clayton.
“This is really cool, and it’s something fun for us to do on the weekends (too),” he said. “We just got back from deployment, and we haven’t had any plans to do anything yet. We got to meet great people who appreciate what we’re doing.”
Nguyen’s friend, Spc. Frannie Baker, 10th BSB, 1st BCT, said that Ride the River was the first FMWR event she has attended and that she had a great time seeing the boats.
Nguyen and Baker, along with several other Soldiers, had a special opportunity to ride in a replica of a 1936 speed boat.
Jeff and Charity Senecal, who are from the Albany area, traveled to Clayton for Ride the River to provide free speed boat rides to active-duty and retired service members.
Jeff Senecal built much of his boat, named “Patriot,” and dedicated it to service members past and present. Senecal’s grandfather served in the Navy during World War II, and he said he has “tremendous respect” for veterans.
“We have a lot fun doing it and enjoy giving back,” he said.