FORT KENT, Maine — Close to three decades ago, one of the more popular competitive river runs in the state was the annual Fish River Canoe Race from Eagle Lake to Fort Kent.
A generation of canoeists later, a local civic group is hoping to put the race back on the map with the Fort Kent Lions Club River Run on June 8 starting at 8 a.m. in Plaisted.
“Most of us organizing it weren’t around when the race first ran back [in the 1980s],” event co-coordinator Travis Duval said. “Our fathers all raced in it and when we suggested it to the club, the older members thought it was an awesome idea to bring it back.”
There are 17 categories based on gender, age and type of watercraft entered in the race, which starts at Lakeside Drive in Plaisted and ends 13-miles later as racers pass under the Fish River Bridge near the Fort Kent Blockhouse.
“There’s something for every level of canoeist or kayaker,” Duval said.
The race is sanctioned by the Summer Aroostook Cup and the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization, with points to be awarded from both.
Racers will face two miles of flat water as they cross the end of Eagle Lake and Soldier Pond. The entire river includes class I and II rapids with one section of class IV rapids at Fish River Falls, which is designated a mandatory race portage.
Areas like the Fish River Falls, the bridges in Soldier Pond and Fort Kent, Pelletier Rapids and Jacuzzi Falls in Fort Kent are excellent viewing spots for spectators, Duval said.
Duval and his committee met earlier this year with the organizers behind the popular annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
“We learned a lot from them about planning and timing the race,” Duval said.
What separates the Fish River race from others around the state like the Kenduskeag, he said, is the wilderness aspect.
“Once you get onto the Fish, you are pretty much on your own,” he said. “There is no access to quick portages [and] if you want to pull out after two miles you can, but you are going to have to walk through the woods for a while to find a road.”
Given the access problems, Duval said there will be a strong safety personnel presence all along the river, with volunteers in boats and along the shore.
“My understanding is this was a pretty big race and it just stopped in the early 1990s,” Duval said. “Our thought is to bring it back and turn it into something great to kick off the summer.”
Once racers pass under the Fish River Bridge, they are invited to continue to the river’s confluence with the St. John River and on to nearby Riverside Park for an awards ceremony at 5 p.m.
Live music, food and a beer garden will be going on all afternoon during and after the race at Riverside Park, Duval said.
Participants are encouraged to register early to give organizers an idea of how many racers to expect, but registrations will be accepted from 6 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. the day of race at the start site in Plaistead. The registration fee is $20 in advance and $25 the day of the race. All participants will receive a T-shirt and goodie bag and are entered into a raffle that could pay one winner up to $25,000, Duval said.
Complete information and registration forms are available at http://fortkentlions.org.