June 23, 2018
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Tradition, activity not limited to the stream at Kenduskeag

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

KENDUSKEAG — It’s easy to wonder what it must be like living at the Birmingham house, especially on one particular late April weekend that has become synonymous with the start of spring around eastern Maine.

The four acres tucked alongside the Kenduskeag Stream and Six Mile Falls offer a picturesque and ideal location to live, enjoy the view and raise children for Lee and John Birmingham.

Well, for 363 days out of the year anyway, but Friday and Saturday were those other two days leading up to and featuring the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

“It’s kind of a madhouse,” Lee Birmingham said. “It’s really hectic and all, but it’s also exciting and as crazy as it gets, I’m a teacher and this is the start of school vacation, so I have the rest of the week to relax after it’s all over.”

It would be difficult to blame the Birminghams if they opted to fence their property, block off the driveway or at least put up temporary fencing to keep the general public off their yet-to-green lawn and waterfront property, but rather than fight it, they’ve come to embrace the annual event that draws almost 1,000 paddlers in nearly 500 watercraft and hundreds of other gawkers, fans and “river vultures.”

“Oh, we knew what we were in for because it was my mom and dad’s house before it was ours,” she said. “And for the most part, people have been pretty good.”

“We’ve been lucky, but it is scary watching some people let their kids climb on trees and stand on the rocks right near the water,” said Birmingham, who teaches sixth graders in Old Town. “And all the dogs I don’t mind, but I just hope their owners pick up after them.”

And it’s not like Birmingham doesn’t enjoy watching the race.

“My favorite part is seeing (Zip) Kellogg come over the falls, along with the Gumby canoe,” she said. “That’s our favorite.”

The Birminghams have literally taken the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach as they routinely invite friends and family over for a cookout or dinner as part of the Kenduskeag race-day activities.

They’ve even allowed members of the Glenburn Lakeside Riders snowmobile club to set up a concession stand on their front lawn to raise scholarship money for local students.

“We wouldn’t let just anyone come do this. We like that they’re doing this for a good cause,” Lee Birmingham explained.

Trailmaster Eddie Pinkham of Glenburn was one of 15 volunteers preparing and serving up hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, coffee, hot chocolate, chips, donuts and whoopie pies to race fans and even paddlers who made the most of an unintentional shore trip after capsizing or dumping at Six Mile Falls.

“I’ll bet we serve maybe 400 to 500 people and probably raise an average of at least $500 from this thing each year,” said Pinkham. “All the money goes to our scholarship fund. We’ve given out a $500 scholarship to a Glenburn resident every year, but this year we’re giving out two.”

Ironically, Pinkham and his fellow club members share something in common with most of people who come to the Birminghams’ race party each year: They have never done the race.

“None of us have done this,” Pinkham said with a hearty chuckle. “This is a spectator sport. We like the snow, and we go four-wheeling once the snow goes away.”

At least one member of the Birmingham family has tried it, however.

“My husband did it maybe eight years ago,” said Lee Birmingham. “They lost the canoe.

“I think he did it just because we live right here and it seemed like he should do it at least once.”

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