MERIDEN —Racers navigated five miles of the Quinnipiac River during the 38th annual Quinnipiac River Watershed Association Downriver Classic canoe and kayak race on Sunday.
“This is one of the challenging courses, because you’ve got so many trees and debris you’ve got to snake through,” said Dan Pelletier, race organizer and a member of the watershed association. It is one of more than 30 races in the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association’s Point Series.
While the threat of thunderstorms Sunday kept some away, recent rainfall made for good racing for the 27 participants.
“It was a really beautiful water level,” said Eric Jones, of Granby, who was racing with his 12-year-old daughter Phoebe Jones.
The tight turns of the Quinnipiac River are a contrast with the white-water rapids in many of the races, but Eric Jones said Phoebe has mastered swinging their 18-foot canoe around the corners.
“You have a lot of maneuvering to do,” he said. “It brings out a lot of the skills.”
“This was one of the first races we did 16 years ago,” said Del Cumings, a Meriden resident who races down the river each year with his wife Vicky Cumings. “It’s a very non-threatening, fun river.
“It’s a very welcoming sport for someone trying it new,” he added. “People bend over backwards to make people feel welcome. You’re exercising out on a lake or a river with great people.”
After initially being concerned the race might be canceled due to damage from Tuesday’s storm, Pelletier said volunteers from the watershed association went down the river over the past week to clear any hazards, but found little debris.
The proceeds from the race go to the association, which maintains the river, teaches canoeing and kayaking to students at Quinnipiac University and local schools, and holds events such as a guided paddling trip down the river for National Trails Day on June 3.
“Anyone can come here and paddle,” Pelletier said, wishing that more local residents would make use of what the river has to offer. “It’s a beautiful natural area.”
After years of racing against many of the same people who were on the river Sunday, Eric Jones said they’re what has kept him coming back for nearly a decade.
“Really we come out because the people are cool,” he said. “At the end of the day, this wouldn’t be the same without the people.”
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