Would you believe me if I told you that the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association (QRWA) canoe race is the longest running canoe race here in Connecticut?
The Quinnipiac River Downriver Classic has been in existence for 38 years and, this year, it takes place this Sunday, May 20.
The first race took place down in Wallingford, starting at the Quinnipiac Street Bridge and finishing down by Banton Street in North Haven.
While the race did draw some competitors, it still lacked the drawing power needed to be in contention with the many canoe races that were going on at that time in Connecticut.
So the start was changed to use the famous Red Bridge in South Meriden, with a flat-water race across Hanover Pond, a portage around Hanover Dam, and then a race downriver to a takeout at what is now known as Westbrook Lobster, formerly Britannia Spoon.
In the first race at Red Bridge, we started a group of canoes and let them battle it out on the way across Hanover Pond. That did not work too well, so in the following years we started them off two at a time with the same takeout.
But there was still room for improvement, and it was decided to once again change the race course. This time we would start at the State D.O.T. lot on Route 322 (Meriden/Waterbury Road) in Southington and use the Meriden Lions Club Grass Park above Red Bridge as a finish line. The grassy lawn was used as a take-out area and folks could get access to their canoes much easier.
This worked quite well for a couple of years, but then the Meriden Lions Club performed another miracle and saved and restored Red Bridge to its original beauty.
I do have to tell you that changing and maintaining these canoe race courses does not happen without a lot of work. When it was decided to start on Route 322, Norm Van Cor was then president of the QRWA and he decided we had to float the Quinnipiac River from the lot at 322 down to Red Bridge to make sure the course was free of any blockage.
I had a 12-foot aluminum Jon boat, so we loaded up the boat with a chainsaw and a come-a-long and set off down the river. On the very first downed tree we had to cut, Van Cor slipped into the still-icy waters of the Quinnipiac and came away with only a good soaking.
It was a slow, grueling process as we made our way down river using the saw and come-along to remove as many obstacles as we could so the canoe racers would have easy access on the course. At one point, we both had to get out of the boat into the frigid water to cut some of the downed trees. After a whole day on the river we completed the job.
The Quinnipiac River is one of the slowest-flowing rivers in Connecticut and every year before the race is held it has to be run to make sure there is no new debris to hinder the racers. Every year, there is.
Dan Pelletier raced his first race on the Quinnipiac River and got so hooked on canoe racing he competed all across New England and beyond, and even came away with many trophies to prove his skill. He is now the chairman of the race and has been in charge of it for the past 20 years.
The Quinnipiac River Downriver Classic is an amateur, friendly race and runs through some really beautiful countryside that you could only view from the river itself. Of course, it is a race, but many return to make the run at a more leisurely pace during the summer as long as the river is high enough to paddle.
A couple of the vantage points to watch the race are the bridges on West Johnson Avenue, Blacks Road and Cheshire Street. Carpenters Dam is now gone, but there is still that iron pipe across the river opposite Broad Brook Pumping Station.
Next is a pretty straight run from Carpenters down past Boy Scout Island and then the broken-down dam (where the high lines run across the river), some rapids and then a flatwater run down to Red Bridge.
It seems that kayaks have made their way big-time onto the racing scene, as well as the fishing and recreational scene. Over the past couple of years, we have noticed more and more kayaks entering the Quinnipiac River Downriver Classic, and why not?
It is a strictly fun race, although there are some very serious competitors on the water. Winners in various classes get a medallion. Second and third places get ribbons.
Entry fee is $18 per paddler. Lunch and awards program follow at the end of the race. The course is five miles. All competitors MUST wear a life preserver. Those entering the race can park their takeout vehicles at the QRWA Headquarters. The event takes place rain or shine.
A huge thank you to the parents of the 68 children who toughed out some rough weather for the City Of Meriden/Meriden Rod & Gun Club (a.k.a. Carl D’Addario) Children’s Fishing Derby last Saturday at Mirror Lake.
Also, thank you to the Meriden Rod & Gun Club volunteers who made everything run so smoothly as well as the DEEP Inland Fisheries for sending the trout-stocking truck for the kids. And thank you to the Meriden Parks Department for its help and Fishin’ Factory of Southington for the bait donations.
For this old codger, it was my first real outing since having problems with medical issues and it did my heart good to see the kids and the parents having such a good time fishing instead of spending time on some electronic gizmos.
The kids caught some nice fish along with the trout that were stocked. Madison Vernon took the 4-year-old girls division with a 5-ounce sunfish. James Yale led the 6-year-olds with a 14-ounce rainbow trout and 4-year-old Zion Perez won his division with a 6-ounce sunfish.
Eddie Rodriquez led the 14-year-old boys with a 15-ounce rainbow trout. In the 13-year-old group, Jenna Talento led the girls with a 3-pound, 13-ounce largemouth bass, and Sawyer Tolento won with a 10-ounce rainbow.
Even with the rain, everyone had a great time and that’s what fishing is all about. It is also a good time for parents to spend with the kids and get a chance to talk to them in this fast and furious world of ours.
“Get a kid hooked on fishing, not drugs.”
See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.