Come this time of year in this neck of the woods, you’ll often hear one version or another of a common refrain. With apologies to Johnny Cash, the question of the week goes something like this: “How high’s the water?”
That’s because it’s race week, and on Saturday morning, hundreds of paddlers will line up for the 53rd annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, a 16-mile trip from Kenduskeag Village to downtown Bangor that includes 10 miles of flatwater, some eye-opening rapids, and a visual spectacle for thousands of once-a-year canoe-racing fans.
On Tuesday, the Kenduskeag’s water level peaked at 2,850 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey station just downstream from Six Mile Falls. That level is high — above the 75th percentile for levels on that date historically.
The view at Six Mile Falls was intimidating, with few rocks in sight in the heavy flow.
And on Thursday afternoon, concerns about safety at high tide prompted race organizers to change the finish line from its traditional downtown location to a spot off Valley Avenue just below the Shopping Cart rapids.
But the stream can drop rapidly, and as of Wednesday morning, it was running at 2,500 at the station, about six inches lower than it had at its peak.
Jeff Owen, a veteran paddler from Orono who has competed in the race about 35 times, said he expects the water to continue to recede until race day, and doesn’t expect any problems to arise because of water that is too high or too low.
“I think we’ll have pretty good water this year. It’s high right now with the race only four days away. Even if it drops a foot each day it will still be a nice, medium level,” Owen said. “If I’m right about the level, it makes for nearly ideal conditions for the general public to participate — enough water to cover up many of the rocks and make more routes available through the rapids, but not high enough to get those really big, pushy and wet wave trains.”
Debbie Gendreau, the assistant director of the Bangor Department of Parks and Recreation, said that her crew is busily making final preparations for this year’s version of a race that has become a local tradition for many.
“I’ve been here for 11 years and race director for 11 years. I didn’t know the magnitude [of the race’s popularity] until I got here,” Gendreau said. “It just seems like it’s an icon not only for the city, but for racers from all over … it just seems to be a great thing to be a part of.”
On-line and in-person registration costs $35 per paddler, but the deadline for that rate is 11 a.m. on Friday. After that — including race-day registrations from 6:30 a.m. until 7:45 a.m. — the price increases to $50 per paddler.
The race begins at 8:30 a.m., with five paddlers leaving the starting line per minute until the entire field has started.