PARKERSBURG - Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park opened for the 2012 summer season on Friday with a new captain at the sternwheeler's helm.
Capt. Gary Kitchen was named as the new captain of the Island Belle on April 23, replacing Harry Batten who had served as the sternwheeler's captain since 2009.
Kitchen is originally from Akron, Ohio, and moved south about 30 years ago and began sailing around the Caribbean.
Photos by Wayne Towner
Captain Gary Kitchen is the new captain of the Island Belle Sternwheeler, which began carrying people between Riverfront Park in Parkersburg and Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park on Friday.
"Now, it's full circle. I'm back in Ohio," he said.
Most recently from Port Charlotte, Fla., Kitchen previously owned a 43-foot sailing yacht and has cruised waterways through the eastern United States, and the oceans surrounding the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Mexico and Jamaica. In 2003, Kitchen participated in the Daimler Chrysler North Atlantic Challenge, which is a transatlantic sailboat race from Newport, R.I., to Hamburg, Germany.
Regarding the Blennerhassett Island position, Kitchen said he was contacted by Brad Reed, district administrator with West Virginia State Parks, about the opening on the Island Belle for a new captain.
"I had been looking for a reason to come back to the Ohio River Valley area and it was a good excuse to come. I'm very happy to be here," he said Friday as he ferried the first visitors of the season between the renovated Riverfront Park and Blennerhassett Island.
In the past couple of weeks since being hired, Kitchen has been working with park employees and the crew to get the boat ready to transport people to and from the island. Park officials had expected it to be next week before the final required inspection and approval could be done, but the U.S. Coast Guard came to Parkersburg on Thursday to conduct the final inspections.
It was a hectic process but Kitchen said he received lot of help from park employees and volunteers and from his crew to get everything done in the testing process.
"My crew is what makes this whole thing work. I'm kind of like the orchestra leader, I stand out front but it's all of the guys that are behind that make it work," he said of his three-member crew.
Kitchen said he wasn't familiar with Blennerhassett Island and its history before being hired, but did some research after he was contacted.
"The more I looked, the more I liked it. It's just fascinating, the historical end of it is amazing. It's just a beautiful place to be," he said.
The Island Belle is a 149-passenger boat. The island hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays through June 10. The island is closed on Mondays except for major holidays.