In this April 2021 file photo, paddlers in two canoes jockey for position above Six Mile Falls in Bangor during the 54th Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

After two years of either canceled or minimized races due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is back to full strength.

But the challenges the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department faced while organizing the 2021 event while adhering to COVID-19 protocols could make this year one of the most smooth and successful events when the 55th edition of the Kenduskeag Stream race is held on Saturday, April 16.

“This year, we’re totally back to normal,” said Debbie Gendreau, the assistant director for the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department, who serves as the director for the 16.5-mile race.

With COVID-19 having loosened its grip on Maine, where nearly 78 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, all are welcome for the race this spring.

The race is still three weeks away, but registrations are already being accepted both online and at the Bangor Parks and Rec offices at 647 Main St.

Gendreau said 180 paddlers had already signed up as of Thursday morning and the hope is to attract upwards of 800 paddlers for the race.

The least expensive option for paddlers is to register prior to April 8, which costs $45 per person. From April 8-14, the fee increases to $65. And for those who aren’t able to commit until April 15 (in office only), or on race day (at the Kenduskeag Union Church), the entry is $75, payable only by cash or check.

Placing the focus on preregistration, and providing race materials in advance, served both paddlers and race organizers well. Gendreau recommends registering at least a week before the race.

“Last year because of COVID we changed it where we put everybody in our canoe race system the week prior and then we had their bibs ready the whole last week so they could come pick up their beds and their boat numbers,” Gendreau said.

That alleviated the usual starting area logjam, since most participants already had their numbered race bibs and boat stickers and could arrive only a few minutes prior to their scheduled starting times.

“It was such a great process for us and the boaters were so appreciative that they could just go at their [scheduled start] time instead of one certain time,” Gendreau said.

Another noteworthy change is the starting time for the 2022 Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Racing will begin at 10 a.m., which will allow finishers to make it under the low bridges in downtown Bangor.

Organizers won’t have to shorten the race because the water level is too high, as has happened a few times in the past, most recently in 2019.

Originally, organizers planned to allow only 310 paddlers in 2021, but a change in Maine’s pandemic protocols enabled them to add the folks who were on the waiting list. The field wound up consisting of 220 boats and 423 paddlers.

“Last year we had to limit the numbers [of watercrafts and paddlers] because of COVID and had to stagger the race start. We’re not doing that this year,” Gendreau said.

The Kenduskeag Union Church, located near the starting line in Kenduskeag, will serve as the headquarters for race-day registrants and church members will make available, by donation, sandwiches and cookies for paddlers.

Once at the finish line at Broad Street Park, participants will be treated to a warming tent with coffee, hot chocolate and goodies sponsored by Darling’s Agency, while Sea Dog Brewing Company will provide free chili and chowder.

For more information or to register for the 55th Kenduskeag Stream race, visit the Bangor Parks and Rec race website.

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...