Canoe and Kayak Race Comes Back June 16th

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Following two years of cancellations due to extreme weather, the Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race is moving to June 16th this year in hopes of better conditions.

Race director and founder (1981) Joe Royer said the course will be the same as in previous years. It will start at the northern end of Mud Island where the Wolf River joins the Mississippi River, hug the Tennessee shore, wind around Mud Island River Park, and end in the Wolf River harbor at Jefferson Davis Park. There will, however, be no tie-in with Memphis in May.

In 2010, severe thunderstorms forced cancellation on the day of the event, and last year the event was called off several days in advance as the Mississippi rose toward a near-record crest. Its survival was in doubt. Speaking of postponements, Royer said there were 12 "near misses" due to bad weather in the 30 years the race was part of Memphis in May. But the race has a perfect safety record and undeniable allure so, after much thought and research, he decided to bring it back in June.

The event walks a line between being "extreme" on the one hand (experts run the course in 20 minutes or less) and family-friendly on the other. If the river is too high, the trees on the banks of Greenbelt Park become "sweepers" that can spill a canoe, and if it is too low then the staging in the Wolf River becomes difficult.

"I don't have an easy river," said Royer.

The cost is $40 per person or $45 after June 11th. Categories included kayaks, double kayaks, and canoes for men and women, with $15,000 in cash and prizes awarded. As in previous years, there will be some elite paddlers with Olympic experience, but Royer said he wants to welcome summer paddlers and families too. The river will be closed to barge traffic during the event. Memphis police and harbor patrol will be on duty.

Assistance with getting canoes and kayaks in the water will be provided at the parking lot at the north end of Mud Island. The staging area is the mouth of the Wolf River, but the only boat ramp in good condition leads directly into the Mississippi River, meaning that participants who start there will have to paddle upstream a short distance.

Royer, a former competitive kayaker, has long touted the potential of the river as a recreational "blueway" or trail similar to the bicycle Greenline. The thrill of dipping a paddle in "Old Man River" for a short trip is offset by the river's size, current, and unpredictability compared to, say, the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. This event is a rare opportunity to have a bucket-list experience under supervision. As someone who has been on the river in a canoe a few times, I would not recommend doing it any other way.

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