BANGOR, Maine — Organizers of the 47th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe race are hoping for a return to normalcy Saturday morning.
Last year’s 16.5-mile trek from downtown Kenduskeag to downtown Bangor was hampered by historically low water levels, which reduced the field of registered participants to 310 watercraft — the lowest total since 292 registered watercraft braved a snowstorm in 1988.
And of last year’s entries, just 227 watercraft to finished the race because the low water conditions forced many to run aground just beyond the starting line.
This year’s course, while not blessed with overwhelming water levels, is much improved over a year ago. According to a U.S. Geological Survey gauge located along the stream near Bangor, the stream was flowing Thursday morning at 548 cubic feet per second at a gauge height of 5.09 feet.
“We’re in good shape,” said Tracy Willette, director of Bangor Parks and Recreation Department, a race sponsor, on Thursday morning. “The water level is not at its lowest, but it’s not tremendously high either so I think it will be at a good spot Saturday for everybody to have a good time.”
Registrations for the main event of the state’s annual canoe and kayak racing season had been fairly consistent in recent years leading up to 2012.
Watercraft registration between 1996 and 2011 averaged 463, with a high during that span of 557 in 2005, a low of 339 a year later and at least 430 boats in 14 of those 15 years.
An average of 874 paddlers have competed in the 15 races between 1996 and 2011, with a high of 1,011 in 2005 and a low of 597 in 2006.
How many paddlers turn out for this year’s race won’t be known until Saturday morning. While online registration ends at 1 p.m. Friday, race-day registration is available from 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. Saturday at the starting line in Kenduskeag Village.
The race is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.
“The registration level has started to pick up this week,” said Willette. “We’re finding more and more that recreational paddlers like to hold on and see what the conditions are going to be like before they make the commitment.”
Kayaker Trevor MacLean of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is the five-time defending race champion, and while he had not yet registered as of Thursday morning, Willette said MacLean — an eight-time Kenduskeag champion overall — typically is a late registrant for the event.
Among other paddlers to watch is kayaker Ray Wirth of Belfast, who has won three of the four local races leading up to the Kenduskeag.
Wirth, who finished fifth overall in last year’s event, won the season-opening St. George River Race in Searsmont in late March, then followed with another victory at the Passagassawaukeag River Race in Belfast a week later.
Last weekend, Wirth placed fourth — behind three two-person watercrafts — at the Souadabscook Downriver Race in Hampden on Saturday and won the Marsh Stream Downriver Race in Winterport on Sunday.