In this April 20, 2019, file photo, (from left to right) Chris Merchant of Kenduskeag helps Robert Scovil of Bangor prepare for the start of the 53rd Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Credit: Terry Farren / BDN

Following a 12-month span during when many annual events have been canceled because of COVID-19, there’s at least one piece of good news on the horizon: The Bangor Parks and Recreation Department has begun accepting registrations for the 2021 Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, which it plans to stage on April 17.

The catch: Only about 310 paddlers will be allowed to race this year, as organizers have taken steps to keep the number of people at the starting line low enough to adhere to COVID protocols. In a typical year, about 900 paddlers participate in the race.

“Register early,” race director Debbie Gendreau of Bangor Parks and Recreation said. “We opened registration [Monday] and we had people waiting at the door when we got here. And we have people calling to register already.”

Another change: At least one popular spot for spectators — Six Mile Falls — will be closed to the public.

“Spectators who watch from other locations along the stream are asked to wear masks and create a healthy environment for fellow onlookers by practicing the recommended six feet of social distancing,” Gendreau said.

Organizers of the 54th edition of the spring classic have pared the number of classes from 23 down to seven, with each class not allowed to begin staging for the race until a predetermined time. The seven classes were selected because they will allow paddlers in all different classes an option to participate. Certain age-group classes were among those eliminated for this year to streamline the process.

“We’re going to have between 150 and 155 boats, total,” Gendreau said. “And we’ll have four different [starting] time slots of between 80 and 85 people each.”

Paddlers will have to wait in their cars until the groups ahead of them have cleared the starting line.

“We’re telling them 20 to 25 minutes before their time slot, they can be out there, out of their cars,” Gendreau said. “We’ll blow a horn and they can start coming down to the water.”

Gendreau said there will be participation limits for each class.

Gendreau is pleased that the race will return after the 2020 edition was scrapped at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It was kind of a big process, but it was an exciting one, too, because we obviously wanted to figure this out and see how we can make this happen following [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines.”

Among the new rules for this year:

— Paddlers must have face covering on until entering the stream.

— There will be staggered starting times, based on class.

— Racers will pick up their bibs, sticker and goody bag at the Bangor Parks and Recreation Center, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April 12-16.

— Paddlers may not enter the waiting area until 20 minutes prior to their designated start time.

— A total of 90 or fewer paddlers will start every 30 minutes.

— There will be no warming tent at the finish line.

Paddlers can register online or in person at the Bangor Parks and Recreation Center at 647 Main St.

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John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...