BANGOR, Maine — Paddlers hoping for high water during this year’s 51st Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race may get their wish, as midweek stream levels hovered near a 17-year high with a significant rainstorm predicted.
“I think we couldn’t ask for better weather than what’s happening this year,” said race director Debbie Gendreau, the assistant director of Bangor Parks and Recreation. “Yes, it was a little scary a couple of weeks ago, thinking that [the race] might not happen [because of ice], but with the weather warming up, it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Gendreau said she’s hoping water levels remain on the high side of normal for the 16.5-mile race, which begins in Kenduskeag village at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
“The flow is great right now,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s probably going to go down a little bit [before Saturday], which is OK. We don’t want it to go down too much.”
As of noon on Wednesday, 3,510 cubic feet per second was passing a water measuring device at Six Mile Falls, according to a U.S. Geological Survey website. At that level — about 9.5 feet on the gauge — the stream is well into the trees on the upstream side of the Route 15 bridge.
To put those numbers in context, consider this: On the same date a year ago, the stream was running below 1,000 cfs. And over the 17 years that a measuring station has been in place, the high-water mark for the date was 3,740.
And how low can the water get? In 2012, just 104 cfs was trickling through Six Mile Falls two days before the race.
While high water typically leads to an increase in participation, Gendreau said that as of Tuesday, advance registrations were simply keeping pace with past years.
“We’ve [registered] our 200th boat, as of right now,” Gendreau said Tuesday. “That sounds low, but it’s not. We looked at our numbers from last year, and the year before, four days before the race, and we’re right on target.”
Several hundred paddlers typically register for the race, with many viewing the race as an annual adventure. The record for race participation came in 1994, when 1,529 paddlers in 754 boats took part.
Those interested in participating this year can register for the race in person at the Bangor Parks and Recreation building on Main Street, or fill out the online registration form.
Up until 1 p.m. on Friday, the registration fee is $25 per participant. After that, the fee increases to $50 per person.
During her 10 years directing the race, Gendreau said she has learned to expect one last-minute registrant to show up.
“Friday at 1 o’clock, we’ll have Trevor MacLean in here,” she said, referring to the Nova Scotia kayaker who has won the race 12 times. “That’s the deadline, and he will show up at five to one … we might wait until 1:05 [to close registration] if he doesn’t show.”
Race-day registration at the starting line will run from 6:30 a.m. until 7:45 a.m.
Gendreau said paddlers and race fans will notice two changes this year.
The first: For years, race staffers have kept track of individual canoes as paddlers made their way through various checkpoints. Sharing that information, unfortunately, was impossible.
“Pine State [Amateur Radio Club] has always put people on the stream at checkpoints, because we need to know where these canoes are,” Gendreau said. “[That data] has always been on paper.”
This year, the club is going digital, and any individual boat can be tracked through those checkpoints, so long as the person checking knows what race number they’re trying to track.
“People always asked us, ‘Do you know where boat 290 is?’” Gendreau said. “Of course we didn’t. But now, we do.”
The other change will only apply to those paddlers who are speedy enough to win awards in one of the 24 categories that are contested.
Gendreau said that as long as anyone can remember, category winners took home prizes that were shaped like miniature canoes.
Not any more.
“They’ve been [canoes] forever. I wanted to do something different, so I talked to a company and wanted to come up with something that nobody else has,” Gendreau said. “We came up with a cutting board/serving board that’s a paddle … that way, people can use their award, rather than just put it on their wall.”