Paddlers and spectators will encounter a few different challenges when the 54th edition of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is staged Saturday, as low water is expected and race fans won’t be allowed to gather at one of the most popular spots on the course.
Still, race director Debbie Gendreau of the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department said participants are eager to compete after the race was canceled a year ago.
“Even with low water, everybody is so appreciative that we’re holding the race this year,” Gendreau said. “People just want to get out.”
Here’s a short list of what spectators and paddlers can expect Saturday:
A new view
Those “river vultures” who generally stake out a piece of shoreline at Six Mile Falls, where they can cheer for spectacular swampings and wipeouts, are out of luck. That particular perch is not open this year.
“Six Mile Falls is being closed to the public due to the pandemic, and we are asking the public not to be at the finish and takeout areas, and that only award-winners be there for that ceremony,” Gendreau said. “For all other areas along the stream — there are a lot of other areas where people can go and watch — we ask that they stay socially distanced, wear masks when they are not with other family members, and just be cautious of everybody else around them.”
Where’s the water?
“The water is extremely low. There’s only one other time in my 14 years here that I’ve seen it this low,” Gendreau said. “This makes the stream extremely slow, because the current is not fast. The deadwater area is going to have almost no current, so they will have to paddle very hard to get down. The areas like Six Mile Falls and Shopping Cart, which have current, it’s low, so sometimes they will have to maneuver and try to find water.”
So, exactly how low is the water level?
The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System has the data to back up Gendreau’s assertion: As of Thursday morning the gage near Bangor was registering the flow at just 181 cubic feet per second. Over the 22 years that the gage has been in operation, the lowest the flow has ever been on April 15 is 179 cubic feet per second.
The median level for April 15 across the years is 1,340 cubic feet per second, according to the agency. That means half of the years on record had a higher flow than 1,340 cubic feet per second, and half had a lower flow than that.
A snow-and-rain event forecast to hit the area on Friday and Saturday may increase the stream level a bit, but it shouldn’t result in a major increase in the flow.
A new champ
The same man — Trevor MacLean — has posted the fastest time during the last 11 editions of the race. In fact, MacLean has 15 overall titles to his credit. But the perennial champ hails from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and since the border is closed due to the pandemic, he won’t be competing this year.
For decades, spectators have enjoyed watching Zip Kellogg race. Even those who don’t know his name recognize him: He’s the guy standing in his canoe — in formalwear, no less — making his way through the most treacherous rapids on the course.
Not this year.
“He knew that there was a limitation on how many boats and people we could have, and he has said he would like to give his spot to somebody else and he will be back next year,” Gendreau said.
This year’s field was capped at about 300 participants.
The paddlers in the popular Gumby canoe, which features a blowup Gumby doll, will be participating with heavy hearts this year, as co-founder Larry Doucette passed away in March after a battle with brain cancer.
Give ’em a cheer, and show you care.