Paddlers to test their mettle on Meduxnekeag

HOULTON, Maine — Paddlers from around the state will try their luck at paddling down the Meduxnekeag River Saturday as the annual canoe and kayak race returns to the Shiretown.

As races go, the Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race falls near the beginning of the state’s canoe race schedule. This year’s race is a week later than last year.

Pre-registrations have been a bit slower this year, according to Jane Torres, event organizer. The race serves as a fundraiser for the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

“I think with the slow start to spring, people are just now thinking about the canoe race,” she said. “We are a week later than last year. But the Kenduskeag River race changed their date for the first time ever, due to unsafe water conditions, so we got bumped down.”

Torres said that change in dates actually served as a blessing as had the event been slated for this past weekend, it likely would have been postponed due to unsafe water conditions caused by the spring thaw and heavy rains.

“As long as the canoes can get under the Carys’ Mills bridge, we should be good,” Torres said. “I know some people who ran the course this past weekend, and they had to duck a bit, but made it through.”

The Meduxnekeag River got its name from Maliseet Indians in 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 enters the St. John River.

In the beginning, the canoe race was a chance for daring college students at Ricker College to let off some steam before final exams and the end of the school year. A party-oriented event, students often cared less about their finishing time or who won the race.

At some point in time, the Houlton Rotary Club took over the race and turned it into a more competitive event. Over the years, the race has started at different locations, depending on the water levels. Traditionally, the race begins at the home of Linwood and Julia Wellington on the Station Road in New Limerick.

The course winds from Mill Stream into the Meduxnekeag River and finishes below the Highland Avenue bridge at the public landing. Refreshments such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and sodas, typically await the tired, hungry and sometimes wet paddlers.

The race offers a variety of classes for the competitive paddlers, but also has its fair share of novices participating. Rescue personnel donate their time to assist with patrolling the river, ready to help when needed.

Last year, there were 58 boats and 115 paddlers who competed. “I think we will get close to that this year,” Torres said.

Paddlers can pre-register by emailing Torres at 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 is held at 9:30 a.m. at the Wellington residence on the Station Road in New Limerick. The eight-mile race starts at 10 a.m

The finish line will be the public landing near the Highland Avenue Bridge and an awards ceremony will be held at Riverfront Park. Shuttle service will be available to take people to Riverfront Park.

The cost is $15. Each participant will also receive a T-shirt with the event logo and after the race, there will be a barbecue luncheon for participants. Guests of the racers may purchase a lunch for a nominal fee.

All non-Aroostook County participants will also be treated to a bag of locally-grown potatoes. “A lot of people say they come up to this race just for the potatoes,” Torres said.

Peter and Carol Blood, as well as Clint and Lorinda Cushman are once again assisting Torres with the canoe race.

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