BANGOR, Maine — Tracy Willette was trying to make the best of a challenging situation as he discussed the upcoming Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
“There’s a lot of speculation out there,” said Willette, the race director. “People take a look at [the stream], they ride by it as much as I do and they see that it’s low. It’s rocky. There’s no doubt about it.”
Willette could have been talking about conditions for Saturday morning’s 46th annual 16.5-mile trek from Kenduskeag village to the confluence of the stream and the Penobscot River in downtown Bangor.
But those comments were uttered in 2006, when similar conditions threatened the event, and the race went on, with local kayakers Kenny Cushman and Jeff Sands combining to post the winning time of 2 hours, 8 minutes and 34 seconds.
Willette reports that this year’s race also will go on as scheduled Saturday despite low water conditions that have left the later stages of the route from Six Mile Falls to the finish line unusually rocky.
“Certainly it’s low, lower than we’ve seen in recent years,” said Willette, also the director of Bangor’s parks and recreation department. “We’ve had these kind of conditions before, but participants must be prepared for low water conditions.
“But the big thing for people to know is that the race is on.”
WABI-TV5 sports anchor Tim Throckmorton announced on Wednesday night’s newscast that the station won’t televise the race this year because of the low water level. A healthy number of paddlers are expected to portage Six Mile Falls, where the station’s camera personnel usually are positioned.
Six Mile Falls is where most of the race’s action takes place as paddlers try to negotiate the lively white water with spectators crowding the banks to watch the activity.
Race organizers and paddlers have overcome low water levels before, not only in 2006 but also in 1999 when the finish line had to be moved up because of an unusually high tide at the finish conflicting with low water in the stream itself.
And while several other races on this spring’s downriver canoe and kayak schedule have been staged on revised courses due to the early snowmelt and lack of rain, Willette said the Kenduskeag course likely will be unchanged.
“There are no plans to alter the course,” he said, “and really there’s no place to do it.”
Willette did indicate that while there are no plans for a mandatory portage at Six Mile Falls, it’s likely that many competitors will choose to pull their watercraft out of the stream at that point due to the lack of white water.
“From the area around Six Miles Falls down, the course will look significantly different than it has in recent years,” Willette said. “There are a lot more exposed rocks along the route this year, so it will require quite a bit of patience among the paddlers.”
Entries for Saturday’s race were running behind the pace of recent years at midweek leading up to the event, said Willette.
“A lot of people are weather watchers,” he said. “It really only takes a good day of rain to change the water level significantly, but we just haven’t had that yet.”
The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, the largest annual paddling event in Maine, typically draws between 800 and 900 participants, with last year’s race attracting 902 paddlers competing in 481 canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
Trevor MacLean of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the defending race champion, paddling his kayak to victory in 1:59:35 last April for his seventh Kenduskeag victory.
Paddlers still may register for this year’s race at www.bangorparksandrec.com. Some race-day registration also is available from 6:30 to 7 a.m. at the starting line.