A week after postponing the first canoe race on the Maine white water schedule, race director Dale Cross has some good news … with a twist.
The ice has left the St. George River, and the 35th St.George River Race will be held in Searsmont on Sunday. Unfortunately, conditions haven’t changed much on the Passagassawakeag River in Waldo, and a race scheduled to take place on that piece of water on Saturday has been scrapped.
But Cross, ever the promoter, has chosen to focus on the positive, and to reward paddlers who come to the St. George race.
“We’re going to do a two-for-one deal,” Cross said. “We’re going to combine the Passy and the St. George in the same race.”
While technically impossible, here’s Cross’s plan: He’s got boxes full of hats that were going to be given out to Passy paddlers. And he’s got boxes of long-sleeved T-shirts that will be scooped up by St. George participants.
This year, those who enter the St. George River will get both a Passy hat and a St. George T-shirt. And entrants who registered for just the Passy will be welcomed at the St. George for no additional fee.
“It’s just not happening,” he said of ice-out on the Passagassawakeag. “Right now it would have to be part of a race and not a whole race. And I’m not even sure we could do that on it. It’s still iced in.”
Cross estimated that just 30 percent of the race course was ice-free as of Wednesday.
On the St. George, though, a few warm days and a day of rain have done wonders for the course that serves as the Maine white water season’s traditional season-opener.
“The water is really perfect,” Cross said. “It is nice and high. It’s cold as all get out. And it’s free of ice.”
Cross said this is the first time that the Passagassawakeag River Race has been canceled. This would have been the 41st edition of the race.
One year, however, the river wasn’t passable and organizers staged an alternate race, which they still called the Passagassawakeag River Race, on the St. George.
Cross said that wasn’t possible this year because they’d already burned up the schedule’s lone potential weekend when the St. George and Passy were both impassable last weekend.
Moving the Passy race to later in the season wasn’t an option, either.
“We don’t want to step on other races’ toes,” Cross said. “And what we don’t want to do is compromise the enthusiasm going forward that we’ve generated in the past.
To that end, Cross said he’s not content to just stage a nice little race on Sunday.
“It’s important to us to have a great race, not just a good race,” he said. “We want to have a go-out-with-a-bang type of thing and have it be a great event that in years to come will help attract people to the St. George.”
Cross said he has a record that shows 100 years of ice-out dates on nearby Swan Lake, and the recent weather trends seem to be mirroring those of a brutal winter 75 years ago.
“In 1939, Swan Lake went out on May 9,” Cross said. “This winter the month of March was the coldest March since 1939, and we’re seeing a lot of the same stuff happening.”
35th St. George River Race: Sunday, April 6. Racers will meet at the Methodist Church in Searsmont, where they can register from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The race will begin at 1 p.m.
This potentially busy weekend of paddling would kick off a packed schedule of races over the coming weeks.
On Saturday, April 12, paddlers will head to the Souadabscook Stream Canoe Race in Hampden (11 a.m. start). The following day they’ll return to the water for the Marsh Stream Canoe Race in Frankfort.
The following weekend, attention turns to Bangor, where the state’s largest canoe race — the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race — will be held on Saturday, April 19. The action on the Kenduskeag isn’t limited to just one day, however: On Sunday, April 20, paddlers will gather at a set of rapids called “Shopping Cart” for the Kenduskeag Sprint.