The canoe races that traditionally open the whitewater racing season in Maine will not be staged this year, but other races leading up to the April 17 Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race will be held.
The St. George River Race held in Searsmont and the Passagassawakeag River Race held in Waldo will not be staged this year, according to longtime race director Dale Cross.
Two other races that typically follow the St.George and Passagassawakeag on the racing schedule will be held though, according to the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization’s website.
The Marsh Stream Downriver Race in Winterport will fill the Passagassawakeag’s date — April 3 — and the Eliot Lamb Memorial Souadabscook Stream Race will be held in Hampden on April 10.
According to the MaCKRO website, there will be a few changes in store for paddlers of the Marsh Stream race. The event will follow a shorter course than usual, and due to COVID concerns, there will not be an in-water safety crew to aid paddlers that capsize. Racers are expected to help rescue other paddlers in need, however.
Cross said he was eager to return to the rivers. His races won’t be staged again until 2022, but he’ll be at this year’s races that will be run.
“For this small [paddling] community, and I can speak for a lot of them, it’s not springtime until you have these events,” Cross said. “We’re just missing it something awful. Missing the paddlers, the enthusiasm, the excitement.”
Last year’s entire racing schedule was canceled due to the pandemic.
Jeff Owen, the youth Outreach Coordinator for MaCKRO and coach of the Orono High School Canoe Team, said the past year has been tough on those who love to race, but it has given both veteran and new paddlers the chance to spend more time on the water.
“I don’t think this past year has been tough on paddlers. People who love paddling had more than the usual amount of time to paddle,” he said. “And lots of people were buying canoes and kayaks, so presumably there were also lots of new paddlers taking advantage of the free time provided by COVID. It was only the competitions that suffered, and of course many of us missed them tremendously, and some organizations lost important revenue streams. But, we’re a flexible bunch and know that such things are temporary.”
There are at least two other racers later in the season that have also been scrapped, according to Owen.
The Kenduskeag Sprints and Machias River Race will also not be staged this year.
But Owen said he and other paddlers were eager to take advantage of whatever racing opportunities are available.
“The racing community is thrilled that some of the traditional races will be held this spring and we’re very, very grateful for the hosting organizations for figuring out how to offer their events safely within the current climate,” Owen said.
Earlier this month the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department announced that it would be staging the 54th Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race on April 17, but COVID-19 precautions would mean the field of competitors would be capped at about 310 paddlers. That’s a decrease from the 900 who typically enter.
On Monday, race director Debbie Gendreau said there are still some spots left in the race, but 268 paddlers have already registered.
“There are three classes with only a boat or two spots left,” she said. “Others have a handful [of open slots]. We are encouraging all who can’t get into a class to put themselves on a waiting list.”
Two divisions with the most available slots are the open class and the two-person short canoe class.
Paddlers can register for the race online or in person at the Bangor Parks and Recreation Center at 647 Main Street.