BELFAST, Maine — Late last March as Dale Cross attempted to pound stakes into the ground while preparing for the St. George River Race, he ran into some difficulty founded in the unpredictable ways of Mother Nature.
“It was 14 degrees out that morning, and I couldn’t pound the stakes in because the ground was frozen,” said Cross, executive director of the Waldo County YMCA and organizer of both the St. George race and the Passagassawakeag River Race that annually follows a week later.
Mother Nature has been even more unpredictable early this spring, her rare 80-degree March temperatures fostering an early snowmelt that makes estimating future water levels on streams and rivers similarly unpredictable with the region’s canoe and kayak season fast approaching.
“There’s a lot of winter left,” said Cross, a trace of wishful thinking perhaps permeating his voice Thursday. “We’re going to get some rain here as we go along, it’s just been surprising that we haven’t had anything for more than two weeks.”
That early snowmelt caused by the record heat and an accompanying lack of recent precipitation have combined to leave a lot of paddlers wondering just how high the water will be in the waterways that play host to early spring races — beginning with the St. George on Saturday, March 31.
“I’ve gone down the St. George twice, Sunday and [Wednesday], and it surprisingly was not too bad,” said Cross. “The water had actually come up a little Wednesday because some of the ice in the woods has been letting up.
“The St. George is very doable. It’s not high by any means, but it’s not so low you can’t do it.”
The 33rd St. George race, which runs from Searsmont Village to the Route 105 bridge in Appleton, will be followed on April 7 by the 39th Passagassawakeag River Race from Waldo to Belfast.
Then comes a doubleheader weekend on April 14 and 15, with the Souadabscook Stream Race in Hampden on Saturday and the Marsh Stream Race in Frankfort the next day.
Those races lead up to the 46th annual Kenduskeag Stream Race, a 16.5-mile endurance test from Kenduskeag Village to downtown Bangor slated for Saturday, April 21.
And while veteran paddlers like Cross aren’t about to try predicting the weather for the coming weeks — last year’s near-freezing temperatures for the St. George race, after all, were followed by an April Fools’ Day snowstorm just before the Passy — they do have a wish as it relates to creating ideal conditions for those events this year.
“I’d like it to stay warm and rain like heck,” said Cross. “A little rain will help. A lot of rain would be fantastic.”
Just once previously have the St. George and Passagassawakeag races been canceled because of low water, that coming in 2006.
But even with the unusual conditions leading into the start of spring this year, Cross is hopeful it won’t come to that in 2012.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in 35 years of paddling, but it’s definitely not doomsday at all,” he said. “Common sense says we’re going to get some rain here pretty soon.”
The six-mile St. George River Race is set for an 11 a.m. start on March 31, with registration from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Searsmont Methodist Church on Route 131. Cost is $20 per paddler.
The seven-mile Passagassawakeag River Race starts at 11 a.m. April 7, also with registration from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. near the starting line at the Littlefield Farm on Savage Road in Waldo. Cost is $20 per paddler.
Proceeds from both races benefit children’s programs at the Waldo County YMCA, and more information is available by calling 338-4598 or accessing www.waldocountyymca.org.
Registration forms for the Kenduskeag Stream Race also are available by accessing http://www.bangorparksandrec.com/documents/2012_canoe_race_registration_form.pdf.