“Alan was smart, strong and capable,” says Awe executive director Mark Singleton. “He represented the future of river stewardship in the northeast and we are all stunned by this tragic accident.”
According to local reports, Panebaker, originally from Steamboat Springs., Colo., where he interned for Paddler magazine and taught kayaking for Backdoor Sports, was kayaking with two companions on the West Branch of the rain-swollen Pemigewasset in Franconia Notch State Park near the Pine Sentinel Bridge. His kayak reportedly hit a boulder, disappeared, and then re-emerged without him. After his body was recovered downstream, his companions tried to rescue him while witnesses called for help.
After earning a B.A in Journalism from the University of Montana, Panebaker moved back to Colorado before moving to Montpelier, Vermont, where he earned his law degree in Environmental Law and Policy from the Vermont Law School. There, his work responsibilities ranged from state and federal policy affecting rivers to community recreation planning as AW’s Northeast Stewardship Director.
“He taught kayaking for me for a long time and was a great person and boater,” says Backdoor Sports owner Pete Van de Carr. “The only reason he wanted to become a lawyer was to help protect the river environment he loved so much and felt was so sacred.”
Panebaker’s father, Dave, is the former superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, where he instilled a love of the river environment in Alan from a young age.
A strong Class V kayaker, Panebaker knew well both the risks and rewards of paddling difficult whitewater. Perhaps no where is this better summed up than in a tribute essay he wrote on his blog “AP Paddling” after fellow East Coast kayaker Boyce Greer’s death in 2011:
“When something like this happens, it really makes everyone take a step back and think about why we do the things we do. There are no easy answers to the nagging questions surrounding mortality and the dangerous sport we do.
“There are no two ways about it: running Class V is dangerous. It can be scary. If it was easy and safe, everyone would do it. But it’s not. It takes training, some athleticism, and more than a little grit. It is a crazy place to be out there on the edge pushing your abilities and keeping a calm head when you do it. But that’s the point. Paddling difficult whitewater is about being alive. It is the most pure and true experience that I have ever known, and it has brought me more joy, pain, and satisfaction than anything else. So while it may be a little fringe to be out there running the hardest whitewater you think you are up to, it isn’t crazy. It’s life. And while we all need to be cognizant of the dangers and take care of each other on the river, we can’t live our lives in fear….