Traditions

Sugar Creek Canoe Race launches Saturday

Paddlers leave the Old Coke Plant launch site in May 2021 for the Friends of Sugar Creek Canoe Race.
Paddlers leave the Old Coke Plant launch site in May 2021 for the Friends of Sugar Creek Canoe Race.
Journal Review File Photo
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A beloved tradition which has captured the imaginations of many a canoeist will commence Saturday in its second outing since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March 2020.

The Sugar Creek Canoe Race, co-sponsored by the Friends of Sugar Creek nonprofit group and the Montgomery County Visitors Bureau, will see dozens of regional professionals and local recreation enthusiasts take off from the old Coke Plant public access site in both 15- and 4-mile races.

Registration for the day’s events has been ongoing online, but FSC Executive Director Cindy Woodall said there is still time for local canoeists and kayakers to participate.

“They can just come down to the Coke Plant launch. We’re going to start registration from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for both races,” Woodall said. “Then we’ll judge the most creatively decorated boat for the short race between 12:30-1 p.m. At 1:15 p.m. we’ll start the 4-mile short race, and then at 1:30 we’ll start the professionals and recreationals on the 15-mile race.”

The 4-mile race, known as the Stwalley Short, is so named after local “creek rat” Bob Stwalley, who has organized or participated in the event since its heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s. A fundamental influencer in the area’s nautical scene, Stwalley still participates in the races — this year at age 94.

“Last year he got on the Stwalley Short with his granddaughter who comes down from Lafayette. They did the 4-mile short because he’s not up to the 15 mile anymore,” Woodall said. “But he still gets himself out on the creek and enjoys it. He’s kind of a local legend in the paddling area, so we decided it was fitting to have the race named after him.”

Stwalley asked the FSC to help revive the decades-old race in 2018. Since then, foul weather and the pandemic have been a factor, shutting it down in both 2019 and 2020. But 2021 saw the race bounce back — a trend Woodall and other members of FSC hope to see continue for 2022.

“We’re hoping for a little more Saturday because we’re kind of back in momentum and people are getting out again. Last year was a little iffy with COVID. But times have changed a little for us,” Woodall said. “We had a couple years we had to sit out, so last year was our first race for a couple years, but we did pull it off. It was a lot of fun and a lot of people really enjoy that. We encourage you to come out.”

Those interested in participating in the races, and those inclined to take in the spectacle, should head to the Coke Plant, 692 Lafayette Ave., at 10:30 a.m. Saturday to register for one of the races. Categories include, to name a few: single kayak, double kayak, two in a canoe and aluminum canoes.

Each category will have first-, second- and third-places prizes, including the Decoration contest.

But whatever the turnout, Woodall said just to be in a position to lead the annual race gives her the full circle effect, as she was an avid spectator as a child.

“I remember as a kid, hanging off the sides of the bridges, waving at the canoeists. My parents used to take us down ... so we could go down and wave at the paddlers and cheer them on. We went from bridge to bridge all the way down to Deers Mill. It was just a big thing then, so for be to be involved now, it just means a lot,” Woodall said. “And for the FSC to be a part of it helps us promote the creek. That’s what FSC is all about: We want to protect and we want to restore and we want to promote the recreation and appreciation of the creek.

“And with the Visitors Bureau being on board, it helps the community know that it really is an asset and a gem to our community.”

For more information, visit www.visitmoco.com/canoe-race, or follow the FSC on social media at www.facebook.com/FriendsofSugarCreek.

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