In this March 2019 file photo, paddlers Chip Loring (front) and Ander Thebaud work their way through a set of rapids off the Ghent Road in Searsmont during the St. George River Race. The race, and the Passagassawaukeag River Race, both will be held later this month after a two-year hiatus resulting from the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

The COVID-19 pandemic swallowed up a lot of river races during the last two years.

A precious few were held in 2021, including the granddaddy of them all, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

Assuming cases continue to fall, there should be plenty of opportunities for paddlers to get back onto the whitewater this spring.

Word came down this week that the St. George and Passagassawakeag river races are on the schedule this month.

Longtime race director Dale Cross has surrounded himself with a handful of other dedicated paddling enthusiasts to make sure those events return after a two-year hiatus.

The 41st running of the St. George race, which usually is the first competitive paddling event held in Maine, is scheduled for Saturday, March 26, in Searsmont while the 47th edition of the Passy will be held the following Saturday, April 2.

Cross had planned that upon his retirement from the Waldo County YMCA in September 2018 he might pass the torch to someone else to coordinate the races. But when the Y withdrew as the organizing body in 2020, he was unwilling to give up on the events he had helped shepherd for so many years.

That’s when Maine Operation Game Thief, a nonprofit organization dedicated to targeting poachers of the state’s fish and wildlife, came on board.

“Everything’s going to be very similar to what it has been in the past,” Cross said.

The 2020 races were canceled, but the partnership is flourishing this year.

“Now, everything’s gung ho and going straight forward,” Cross said.

Cross has teamed up with his wife, Stephanie, and other family members, along with Karen Varney and Ed Varney, to lend their experience in making sure things run smoothly.

The return of whitewater racing this spring will be bittersweet for Cross. He suffered a serious leg injury this winter while ice fishing that required surgery and will keep him off his feet for several weeks. He hadn’t planned to race anyway, but it won’t be the same without him taking care of the many details that have made the races a success over the years.

“I only missed one year until the pandemic,” said Cross, who ran his first St. George race when he was a sophomore in high school.

In the meantime, some veteran paddlers will be running the rivers and making sure any dangerous obstacles are removed before race day.

The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, which was staged in 2021, will again be held with a restricted field of craft and paddlers. It is slated for April 16.

Paddlers are encouraged to sign up for the races in advance, online, by visiting the Maine Operation Game Thief website. The cost for each race is $20 and registration closes at noon Friday the day before each event.

For questions about the registration process, email or call Cross at 207-322-5567.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...