DOVER-FOXCROFT - What started in 1972 as a Kiwanis spring fundraiser has grown into a major annual sporting event in the Penquis region. The Piscataquis River Canoe Race, an 8-mile dash from Guilford to Dover-Foxcroft, will mark its 30th anniversary on Saturday, April 27.
The Piscataquis River Race annually draws over 150 racers and scores of boats. Paddlers compete in 21 racing and recreational classes for canoes and kayaks.
The race has become the major fund-raiser for the Kiwanis Club of Dover-Foxcroft, which raised $18,000 last year and more than $160,000 over the years through the event. The club solicits corporate sponsors, sells ads for the race booklet and conducts a raffle, in addition to taking in boat registration fees for the race.
This year the race raffle offers $500 in cash or a twin-seater Old Town Loon 160T kayak with paddles and lifejackets as a prize. Tickets are $2 each or three for $5 and are available from Kiwanis members.
Last year race proceeds helped Kiwanis in the second year of a three-year project to improve Kiwanis Park near the Piscataquis Regional YMCA in Dover-Foxcroft. Kiwanis replaced swings for adults and big kids, and added a toddler climbing dome and a "space shuttle" module for older children. Kiwanians also expanded the park area by clearing brush and dredged a brook to improve fish habitat.
Besides helping the playground project, Kiwanis will use canoe race proceeds to fund other community service activities the club has supported: food cupboards, scholarships for Foxcroft Academy graduates, YMCA swimming programs and many others. The Kiwanis Club annually raises and distributes over $35,000 for community service programs.
A late March snowstorm helped improve dry conditions in the Piscataquis watershed, and new Kiwanis race chairman Gary Nelson is optimistic that water levels will be good for the April 27 race.
"We all know Maine has been experiencing drought conditions since last year, but the late snow coupled with -- hopefully -- April showers should mean high water in the river during the spring thaw. High water results in a swift current and fast racing conditions," said Nelson.
Popular racing and recreational classes include single kayaks and single canoes for men or women, two-man and two-woman canoes, mixed doubles (man and woman) canoes, Junior/Senior Challenge (one paddler age 12 or under) and the Century Challenge (ages total at least 100). Other classes include the Corporate Challenge for company teams, Kiwanis Challenge, the Key Club Challenge and the Open Speed Challenge (any paddled craft allowed).
Helmets are required for decked boats, and all paddlers must have personal flotation devices. Some experience with your boat in rapids is advised, since there are two areas of whitewater, one a grade II-III stretch.
Registration for the Piscataquis River Race is from 8-10:30 a.m. near the start at King Cummings Park in Guilford. A race T-shirt comes with the $12 per person registration fee. A 9-passenger shuttle bus is available to transport racers back to their cars after the race is over.
The race has a staggered start beginning at 11 a.m. Awards for first-, second- and third-place finishes in each class are given out at 1 p.m. at the race finish line across from Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft. Also at the finish line are refreshment stands.
The 8-mile river course parallels Route 15 and there are many viewing areas between Guilford and Dover-Foxcroft. The Guilford-Sangerville bridge, Low's Covered Bridge and the Dover-Foxcroft railroad trestle are popular vantage points.
The course starts with an easy, 3.5-mile quickwater section between Guilford and Low's Covered Bridge. The river current picks up after that and, depending on water level, varies from quickwater to occasional rapids over the next four miles. Two sections of rapids require some river reading and boat handling skills. After paddling over the old dam above the trestle in Dover-Foxcroft, there is flat water to the finish.
Safety is stressed during the race. The Dover-Foxcroft Fire Department River Rescue team and Dirigo Search and Rescue are on the course during the race, communications are handled by the Piscataquis Amateur Radio Club, and safety personnel are coordinated by the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Office.
For race details and pre-registration, contact the Southern Piscataquis County Chamber of Commerce at 564-7533. The race is an American Canoe Association event.
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