PADDLIN’ WITH PASQUALE

menna-burnham1Cindy Burnham and her newest water mate, Mayor Pasquale Menna, who spent Saturday morning kayaking on the Navesink. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna is not what you would call a water-sports kind of guy. In fact, he’s nautically challenged, never having learned to swim.

Which is why his arrival Saturday morning at Maple Cove, decked out in a bathing suit and life vest, was so unusual. To then see him take off in a kayak  and skim along the water seemed about as likely as Nessie craning out of the Navesink River.

But Menna, keeping a promise to Maple Cove preservationist and kayaking advocate Cindy Burnham that he’d come down and get a first-hand experience of Maple Cove, did just that, Cindy Burnham-style.

menna-kayak1Menna leads the pack. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

“This is what we do. We kayak out here,” Burnham said a short time later, as she pulled up alongside Menna, who had come to a rest at the deck at The Boondocks, about a half-mile east of where they’d started. “We pull up and we dock and we dine.”

“This is extraordinary,” said.Menna, glistening with sweat and a grin nearly as wide as the Navesink.

Miss Maple Cove herself, Burnham, had, after fighting to get the town officials to recognize the borough-owned patch of land at the foot of Maple Avenue as a passive recreation area, asked Menna several weeks ago if he’d be game to partake in a bit of a water adventure. He acquiesced, but given his aversion toward the life aquatic — Menna was born in the mountain villages of Italy, where he says, “there was no water around” even if he’d wanted to swim —  the chances appeared slim that he’d, uh, take the plunge.

He took to the water quite well. So much so that Burnham became cautious bordering on maternal.

“I didn’t put sunblock on his head,” she said as the sun’s rays beat hard. “I’m worried about him.”

When Menna pulled away from the Boondocks and paddled into the open water, she called out, “Pat, don’t do that,” then turned around and said, “he’s getting his water wings. He’s scaring me.”

By morning’s end, Menna had become a fan, not only of spending time out on the river, but of the nature enthusiasts who engaged in a back-and-forth with borough officials that dragged out for months, but eventually turned in their favor.

“How could you argue with what I saw this morning?” Menna said, referring to the vitality of the one-acre site. “I saw dogs use it. I saw senior citizens using it.”

It’s a bit too early to crown him Mr. Maple Cove, though. Burnham’s got a few more tests to put Menna through before he can start making solo trips down the Navesink.

“He’s going to learn how to swim first,” she said. “Or at least doggy paddle.”