Wilderness Canoe Race

Skilled canoeists consider the annual Wilderness Canoe Race the ‘toughest little race in Texas.’

More than 150 participants are expected to turn out for this year’s “toughest little river race in Texas” set for Aug. 7.

The annual Wilderness Canoe Race is a canoe/kayak race, held annually by the Neches River Runners, down 22 miles of the Neches River.

“The average canoeist may make the flat-water trip in three to 10 hours depending upon the individual’s skill and equipment used,” said Brad Chaffins, spokesperson for the event. “Skilled canoeists have considered this the ‘toughest little race in Texas.’ But for a leisurely-paced race, it is a good opportunity to see the river and experience nature. Those who complete the course may be extremely tired, but many have a definite increase in self-confidence.”

The nonprofit Neches River Runners is dedicated to conservation, outdoor education, canoeing and kayaking. The group offers free canoe clinics each spring and undertakes several river clean-ups throughout the year.

This is their 30th race in 31 years, with one cancelled due to rainout.

The event is a scholarship benefit for future Trinity Valley Community College students. Any student may apply for the scholarship. The Neches River Runners have awarded over $30,000 to deserving students since 1990.

The race is set up with two classes of paddlers: leisure class and pro class.

The race begins at a location at Lake Palestine, behind the Black Burn Dam and ends at a completion gate at Highway 79 east of Palestine. Course spectators are encouraged to watch launches throughout the morning.

Canoes are launched by class and division.

The leisure class starts one hour before the pro class, which means the pro classes don't run off and leave the rest of the paddling field. Starting an hour later, they will have to catch up to the leisure class and maneuver their way around and through the slower paddlers to make their way to the front of the pack.

Radio operators are stationed along the way to provide instant contact to emergency personnel, if necessary.

At the finish line, volunteers pull canoes from the river for the paddlers. Everyone enjoys hamburgers or veggie burgers, cold drinks and watermelon. Awards are presented when all paddlers in a class have crossed the finish line.

A drag boat sweeps the river from starting line to finish to make sure no stragglers remain on the river.

A shuttle takes racers to the starting line to pick up their vehicles.

Entry fees are $30 per person. All racers receive a t-shirt. There is a $5 late fee if registered the day of the race to cover the expense of mailing t-shirts not ordered in advanced.

Canoe and kayak rentals are $35, first-come, first-served.

All participants are required to have a life vest in the boat at all times.

Online registration is available at www.necheswildernessrace.com.

Race day registration starts at 6:30 a.m. at the Blackburn Dam race start.

This year there is a mandatory check-in time of 7:45 a.m. and a meeting at 7:50 a.m. The leisure class will start at 8 a.m.; the pro class, 9 a.m.

There are two check points and water stations, as well as free refreshments at the finish line.

Medical personnel with the Palestine Regional Medical Center will be available.

For more information: www.necheswildernessrace.com or call Brad Chaffins at 903-391-4134.

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