Just after putting in, boaters head downriver for a paddle on Millinocket Stream in 2017. This year, it's the site of the new Millinocket X-Stream Canoe Race. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Sindo

It’s the end of May in Maine. If you’re a whitewater enthusiast, you probably think that means the spring paddling season is over.

You’ve checked off the St. George, Passagassawaukeag, Souadabscook, Marsh Stream and Kenduskeag Stream races, and you’ve accepted the return of slower-paced waters.

But hold on! There’s one more race to put on your list and finish off the season strong.

Clear your calendar and make plans to hit I-95 and head for Millinocket on the first weekend of June. The inaugural Millinocket X-Stream Canoe Race will kick off the morning of June 4, and it’s sure to be a thrilling time.

Race organizer Chris Howe also happens to be my partner in all things life. He loves me a lot, but I think whitewater may have a step up on me.

You see, he’s been guiding on the West Branch of the Penobscot River since 2009, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Guiding and paddling whitewater is an unwavering passion of his.

His early days of whitewater kayaking on Millinocket Stream played a significant role in fostering this passion. It was there he honed his strokes and rolls and grew to love the water.

Fast forward a decade, and the nostalgia of those early paddling days came flooding in. He spent time last fall writing public comments to submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in regard to the relicensing process that started for Ripogenus Dam and lower sections of the Penobscot.

A license stands in place for 30 years, and during the relicensing process, the public has the opportunity to submit comments for any updates or studies they believe should be adopted or supported.

After writing the comments, his thoughts morphed into a new vision for the stream: a canoe race. Thanks to the rousing rapids over the first handful of miles followed by a couple miles of flat, quick-moving water, Millinocket Stream would be a unique race venue.

“I realized this stretch of river will keep the most veteran racers busy picking their lines, while the more amateur paddlers will be tested and their river running skills challenged, in a relatively friendly environment,” Howe said.

Paddlers prepare to enter the “Turtle Pit Rapid” on the upper section of Millinocket Stream. It is one of the challenging sections of the new Millinocket X-Stream Canoe Race scheduled on June 4. Credit: Courtesy of Trever Turmel

His big-picture goal for this race is to get young people curious and involved in whitewater paddling and also to give back to the community and area that has given him so much. To help with this, he has partnered with Outdoor Sports Institute, a non-profit organization based in Millinocket that connects people and communities through human-powered outdoor sports.

Together, he hopes the race catches on and piques people’s interest. This year’s race, and future races, will raise funds for local organizations to benefit local and indigenous youth to gain the skills and equipment needed to recreate in the Katahdin region.

The 7.4-mile race commences just below Millinocket Lake Dam where canoers, kayakers and stand up paddleboarders will enter the water and head down stream with the goal of reaching the finish line at Kermit Crandall Park on Congress Street in Millinocket.

The pry and draw strokes you relied on in the earlier races this season will indeed come in handy as there are plenty of exhilarating rapids on the stream (hence, X-Stream). The first roughly 4 miles of the X-Stream course will keep your eyes busy and your mind concentrated.

This drop pool section of the stream features numerous Class II rapids that you’ll have to navigate and, ultimately, weave your way through the final, biggest rapid of the course: Turtle Pit. At three-quarters of a mile long, Turtle Pit features pour overs and midstream boulders that will require maneuvering and river reading skills.

Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? That’s OK. There’s an optional portage around this rapid.

After the consistent whitewater section, you’ll downshift gears and let your forward and J-strokes glide you through the calm stream that snakes through town toward the finish line. After the race, prizes will be awarded and yummy food will fill your belly, thanks to gracious sponsors and volunteers.

So, outdoor community, pack your bags and boat and head north for a weekend of exciting paddling, giving back and growing relationships. Head to paddlemillinocket.org to register.

Sarah Sindo, Outdoors contributor

Sarah Sindo was locally grown in Millinocket. Her love and appreciation for the outdoors took off after college when she hiked numerous mountains with her brother, Nick, including her first ascent of Katahdin....