By CRISTIN REECE
Ladies and gentleman, start your... paddles?
The 23rd annual Neches Wilderness Canoe Race, touted as the “Toughest Little Race in Texas,” launches at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Lake Palestine dam, in Lake Palestine and will follow the Neches River 20 miles to the U.S. 79 bridge between Neches and Jacksonville.
“There is absolutely nothing like Neches from the venue and unpredictability of it to the people that put it on,” Erin McGee, a U.S World Cup kayaker and regular race entrant stated on the race’s official website.
What makes it so tough?
“Neches’ is one of the toughest flatwater races in the state — lots of obstacles — no current,” Ed Furman explains on the website. Furman, who is was race director the first 20 years of the race, started paddling to get his Boy Scout merit badge years ago in New York.
“In other words lots of fallen trees and stumps and being in the low water typical of late summer,” the website states. “The kind of conditions that appeal to a cross cut of paddling types. Plenty of challenge without the hazards associated with the fast moving river. Conditions that act as an equalizer to the race field, taking away some of the advantage of hull designs and handing it to the resourceful.”
The race includes two classes of racers — leisure and pro. Race officials said water stations and check points are setup at two locations along the racecourse, and race volunteers will be monitoring paddlers’ conditions throughout the event. Radio operators also will be positioned strategically along the way to provide instant contact to emergency personnel, as needed.
Check in starts at 6 a.m. then it’s anchor’s away for the leisure class at 8 a.m. Pro class canoes launch at 9 a.m. Racers will also be treated to a finish-line lunch.
Proceeds from the race benefit the Trinity Valley Community College’s special needs scholarship program. The race is the primary activity of its organizers, the Neches River Runners — a non profit group interested in the conservation of the Neches River. Originally, the race was sponsored by the Trinity Valley Community College Palestine Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the National Honor Fraternity for American Junior College.
“Over the past 22 years, funds in excess of $20,000 have provided over 85 scholarships to deserving college students,” the Runners’ website states. “The scholarship program benefits a variety of students including returning adults, single parents, veterans and recent high school graduates. In addition, the race positively impacts the tourism economy of Palestine and Anderson County.”
To donate to the scholarship fund or to volunteer at a race, call 903-723-2066 or visit www.necheswildernessrace.com.