March 29, 2020
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The water may be low, but the St. George River Race is a go

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
Tommy and Jeff Owen of Orono navigate canoe 12x through the rapids just upstream from the Ghent Road Bridge during the 38th Annual St. George River Race in 2017.

When springtime arrives in Maine, it often does so with a trickle, then a torrent. Or, perhaps, with a deluge.

And come this time of year, avid paddlers start looking for flowing water and the start of canoe season. And no matter how high the snow piles in your own yard, that season will kick off Saturday with the 39th running of the St. George River Race in Searsmont.

“I’m looking out my window right now, and water is running down the ditch,” longtime race director Dale Cross said Tuesday. “So we’re very, very hopeful.”

Cross, the executive director of the Waldo County YMCA in Belfast, was hopeful a year ago, after the ice briefly left the St. George during the week before the race. Unseasonably cold midweek temperatures foiled that plan, however, and the race was postponed a week.

Cross said he doesn’t see that happening this year.

“[The river] is open, and in fact, I did the course on Sunday,” Cross said. “It’s just very, very low right now … I think if the river comes up another 4 to 6 inches with this melt and the rain we’re supposed to get Thursday, we should be good.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Waldo County area won’t be dipping very far below freezing between now and Saturday, and daytime highs may reach the mid 50s.

The race begins at 11 a.m., while registration will take place at the Methodist Church on Route 131 in Searsmont from 8:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.

Cross said he took the time to appreciate his paddle on the St. George on Sunday, and said visitors to the river will be impressed.

“It was so quiet, and the river is so beautiful. A lot of sandy bottom. The deadwater is beautiful. It goes through the most beautiful big woods,” Cross said. “I was paddling along quietly and ducks of every breed were going up and flying over me … I got to thinking, this is one of the prettiest rivers around.”

That’s not to say that it’s a placid or easy place to race a canoe or kayak.

“The challenge this year is going to be navigating the deepest part of the rapids to get down through, staying in that current,” Cross said. “A lot of time [in races] you’re avoiding the big stuff and trying not to fill up. Well, you’re going to be trying to avoid the hard ones — the rocks.”

The race marks the beginning of the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization season. Races that follow: The 45th Passagassawakeag River Race on April 7, The Eliot Lamb Memorial Souadabscook Stream Race on April 14, the Marsh Stream Sprints and Downriver race on April 15, the Kenduskeag Sprint on April 20 and the 52nd Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race on April 21.

Cross said the St. George gives paddlers a comfortable way to get back into racing.

“It’s a great start of our season because it’s six miles long, not 16 miles [like Kenduskeag]. You’ve got a good chance to get wet if [the water is] high. It isn’t this year, but there’s still a chance of rolling over,” Cross said. “You get a chance to paddle on some flatwater and get your sea legs, and then you get into some challenging whitewater because it’s low and you have to find the lines.”

And those lines might be different than they have been in the past.

“There are rocks in places that I’ve never seen them before. You’re going to see some thrashing and swimming,” Cross said.

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