HOULTON, Maine – A healthy dose of rain in recent weeks has organizers of the 2022 Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race excited about the number of people next weekend’s annual race could draw to Aroostook County.
The Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race returns on Saturday, April 30 and falls near the start of the state canoe racing schedule. The event did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned to prominence in 2021. Paddlers come from all over the state to earn ranking points for the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization.
More than a third of attendees come from outside of Aroostook County, according to Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. Some travel nearly 300 miles from southern Maine to participate.
So why is the event so popular with those who live in other places?
“They come for the potatoes,” Torres said.
In addition to the category winners, each paddler who does not reside in Aroostook County receives a bag of county potatoes to take home. Some years this means that over 50 bags of County Potatoes are distributed.
“The river is a bit high right now, but I think it should be fine,” Torres said. “The enthusiasm is definitely there for this year’s race.”
The Houlton Race typically attracts over 100 participants, but the skill level of these paddlers can vary widely. For some the event is competitive, but for others it’s more of a leisurely ride on the river.
Last year, a slightly lower turnout of around 80 paddlers took part in the race. The binomial of
Jeff Owen and Anna Drinkert were the fastest to cross the finish line. The duo completed the course in one hour, 11 minutes and 14 seconds.
Pre-race briefings begin at 9.30am at the home of Linwood and Julia Wellington on Station Road in New Limerick. Paddlers will begin heading downstream at 10 a.m.
The cost of pre-registration is $15 for adults and $10 for students and children, and includes a free t-shirt and a barbecue lunch at the finish line. Riders’ guests can purchase a meal for a nominal fee. Several vendors will also be set up in Riverside Park this year.
Some years the water levels are so low that paddlers have to get out of their boats and walk along the rockier sections of the river. That shouldn’t be the case this year as water levels are more than adequate, Torres said.
Houlton native Peter Blood, a long-time canoeist who returns to Houlton every year to compete in the race, will review the water conditions to ensure it is safe for everyone, Torres said.
Additionally, Al Cowperthwaite and Jimmy McParland volunteered to be the race sweepers, ensuring that no paddler was left behind.
The Meduxnekeag River takes its name from the Maliseet Indians of the area. Its name means “rocks at its mouth”. The river is 35 miles long and flows east from Drews Lake to Woodstock, New Brunswick, where it empties into the Saint John River.
At first, the canoe race was a chance for students at the old Ricker College to let off steam before final exams and the end of the school year. A party-oriented event, students often cared less about their finish time or who won the race.
At some point, the Houlton Rotary Club took over the race and turned it into a more competitive event. Over the years, the race has started in different places, depending on the water levels.
The route meanders from Mill Stream into the Meduxnekeag River and ends at the Gateway Crossing Bridge in Riverfront Park. The race offers a variety of classes for competitive paddlers, but also has its fair share of novices. Rescue personnel volunteer their time to help patrol the river, ready to help if needed.
Paddlers can pre-register by emailing Torres at [email protected] People can also register in person at the chamber office or pre-register on race day, starting at 8 a.m. A mandatory safety briefing takes place at 9.30am at Wellington Residence on Station Road in New Limerick. The eight-mile race starts at 10 a.m.
The finish line will be the Gateway Crossing Bridge at Riverfront Park. Paddlers will continue a short distance to the landing stage on Highland Avenue, where a shuttle service will be available to take people to Riverfront Park.
Another race in the series – the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe and Kayak Race – was just held on Saturday April 16, and the 48th annual Kiwanis Piscataquis River Race will be held on Saturday April 23 in Guilford.
For more information or to pre-register for the Meduxnekeag, call Torres at 207-694-3414.