A summer tradition for decades, the Fox Valley Park District’s Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race will be held on the Fox River next month for the first time since 2017.
The June 5 event will include two different races with starting lines in St. Charles (a 10-mile race) and in Batavia (a six-mile race) with each finishing in Aurora at the Prisco Community Center, where a post-race lunch including food and beverages and lawn games will be offered, followed by an awards ceremony.
The event is open to all interested in canoeing or kayaking whether for leisure or competition, officials said.
Held annually on the Fox River since the 1960s, the event was canceled each of the past four years.
“For two years, we had to cancel the race due to high waters and dangerous water flow rates and then that was followed for two more years by the pandemic,” said Fox Valley Park District Executive Director Jim Pilmer. “The staff did say something to me about it (the race) last week, and I said we’re moving forward whether there are 10 canoes or a 100 because this is 48 miles of shoreline that the Fox Valley Park District has.
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“It’s a highlight and this is what we do – it’s part of tourism, it’s who we are and what we are,” he said of the race. “I told the staff we’re doing it with or without registrants.”
Pilmer spoke about the long absence of the race and the need to get it “back on people’s calendars.”
“We have to re-establish ourselves – that is, the Fox Valley Park District – we have to re-establish ourselves being back on the circuit,” Pilmer said. “The first Sunday of June paddlers throughout the Midwest need to know, hey, the first Sunday in June, I’m going to be in the Fox River Valley. Bring your kayak, bring your paddleboard, heck bring your inner tube.
“There are recreational people and competitive ones, but I full-heartedly know we have to re-establish ourselves and hope our weather conditions stay where they’re at.”
Fox Valley Park District Director of Recreation Jaime Ijams said “all of our staff are dedicated to hosting the event this year” and that the district is pushing the event through social media and marketing.
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“We have about 106 racers registered as of mid-May and right now our water levels are looking pretty good – they were high in the beginning of the month, but right now they’re at a good level,” Ijams said. “We’re going to keep an eye on that and as long as that’s good, we’re going to go rain or shine.”
Prior to the four-year stoppage, Ijams said the race would usually draw “close to 700 people from all over the state.”
“There would be quite a draw from family members coming to visit and going to the race as well as people living here,” she said. “Throughout the spring, a lot of our competitive racers that do the St. Charles and the Batavia race – they have reached out year after year wanting to have this come back, so we have a lot of them who will return. It’s about getting the word out and letting people know we’re ready to go. We’re just excited to have it back.”
No changes in the race are planned this year following the long layoff, officials said. The actual structure of the race is the same, Ijams said, “and the kayaks are pretty spread out so we don’t feel the need to take extra safety precautions.”
Life jackets (personal flotation devices) by all participants are required.
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The race includes 10 canoe divisions, eight kayak divisions and a recreational category. The top three boats in each division receive an award.
Pre-race packet pickup will be held 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 3, at Prisco Community Center, 150 W. Illinois Ave. in Aurora.
The race, including lunch and awards ceremony, will run from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. June 5.
To sign up for the event, go to www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org.
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.