There might be lots of ice and snow covering your local stream or river.
There might be cold weather and snow and sleet forecast for the next couple of days.
But in Dale Cross’s world, come the end of March, the water is always flowing, and the canoe races he directs are set to go off on schedule … just like they typically do.
“We tell people when they come to [the Waldo County YMCA] that it’s always 70 degrees and sunny when they come inside,” said Cross, the executive director of the YMCA that sponsors the first two races of Maine’s traditional white water schedule. “We wish it could be that way for our races as well.”
That might not be the case on Saturday, when paddlers will line up their canoes and kayaks for the 34th St. George River Race in Searsmont. It might not even be the case on April 6, when the 40th annual Passagassawakeag River Race will take place in nearby Waldo.
But Cross is confident that paddlers won’t mind a bit. The water is flowing, and competitors will show up in droves to celebrate springtime in Maine.
“We’re not looking at high water [for this weekend] but it’s good water for the first race,” Cross said. “I say this to a bunch of paddlers: ‘It’s a good starter race for everyone.'”
The six-mile St. George River Race is the annual season-opener, and Cross said a near-record number of pre-race registrations have already been filled out. Among those who have already committed are both young and veteran paddlers.
“So far in our signup and from what we’ve heard we’re anticipating the largest high school and younger group we’ve ever had,” Cross said. “We’re hoping for 45 individuals that are high school age or younger. Three years ago we had 12 [in that age group]. Last year we had 35.”
Cross said dads and moms are taking their kids to the races, not to watch, but to compete. And he said veteran paddlers are beginning to return to a sport they loved when they were younger.
“The other thing I’m seeing is a lot of people who are just retiring,” he said. “We have a class for those folks — what we call the ‘Century Class,’ which is combined age over 100 — there are a lot of folks who used to [compete], are retiring, and saying, ‘I want to do that again.'”
Cross said that while he doesn’t expect a “sunny and 70″ day on Saturday, the forecast does indicate it might be 50 degrees, which would mark a warming trend from this week’s chilly weather.
And while the water level isn’t expected to be too high, he said conditions on the St. George always present unique challenges.
“The river’s never exactly the same, depending on the weather or the water level or the ice not being out,” Cross said. “It provides all kinds of different challenges each and every year. It’s not the same. You get thrown some curveballs.”
Cross said he and his daughter paddled the St. George over the weekend and found it free of obstacles and navigable.
“It was lower than I’d like it, but it’s very safe,” he said. “There’s no trees hanging. It’s very doable. The rocks are showing a little more than I’d like, but it actually tests your skills a little more when it’s a little lower.”
Saturday’s St. George River Race begins at 11 a.m. Race-day registration will run from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Searsmont Methodist Church.
On April 6, racers will move on to the Passagassawakeag, and Cross said he expects the water level to rise a bit for that race.
“We haven’t had rain, really, for nearly three weeks. We’re due. And if we have rain next week, which they’re calling for, that should be fantastic,” Cross said.
Cross said the Passagassawakeag is a seven-mile event that poses different challenges to racers.
“The dead water [has] a lot of turns, a lot of cornering,” he said. “It really tests your flat water skills for the first two and a half miles. Then, if the water’s up, the rapids are quite narrow and you have to hit the right spots. It really tests your skills in a different way.”
The Passagassawakeag race starts at 11 a.m. at the Littlefield Farm on Savage Road in Waldo. Registration runs from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Entry in each race is $20 per paddler.