Unless there's a prolonged downpour, the water conditions might be just about perfect for the Meduxnekeag River.
Clint Cushman (left) and Peter Blood paddle in the 2022 Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race in Houlton. The two are veterans of the race, having participated for decades. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — The Meduxnekeag River might be just about perfect for this year’s famed whitewater canoe and kayak race at the end of the month.

The Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race is a longtime Houlton rite of spring, said Peter Blood, who has been running this river race for more than 36 years.

“We’re still in the melting stage up here, and there is snow along the banks,” Blood said. “It should be ideal, unless it downpours for a few days before the race. Time and weather will tell.”

The whitewater racing season began in late March with the St. George River Race. The Meduxnekeag contest, Down River No. 8, will happen on April 29. It’s one of the last races in the 2023 Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization Down River Point Series.

About 100 paddlers from around the state are expected to vie for points, have fun and perhaps take home a bag of Aroostook County potatoes.  

Generations of locals have raced in the event, which started as an end-of-semester event to blow off steam by students at the now-defunct Ricker College. Gradually the competition evolved from a party to a serious canoe race on the whitewater circuit.

Blood, 77, and his longtime paddling partner, Clint Cushman, were known in their younger years as the team to beat, he said with a laugh.

“The canoe was my first taste of freedom,” said Blood, who got his first canoe in the eighth grade. “Most kids get a driver’s license. I got a canoe. It opened up the world to me. I never needed a tranquilizer because I had a canoe.”

The racing duo of Blood and Cushman, who hold many trophies, won first place in the 1996 Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization Down River Point Series with 35 points.

They ran the Meduxnekeag River Race for 15 years before the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce took the helm.

The eight-mile race is for both experienced whitewater racers and recreational paddlers because it offers many categories, Blood said. That gives everyone a chance to compete against padders with similar boats and abilities. They could have as many as 25 categories, he said.

If paddlers with no river experience come to the race, Blood discourages them, because the river is challenging and features major drops.

At the Devil’s Elbow, paddlers have to be very careful and should never go to the right, he said.  

The Devil’s Elbow is part of the river in New Limerick with rocky areas and fast-moving waters.   

The race will start at Lynwood Wellington’s house on the Station Road in New Limerick and end at Houlton’s Gateway Bridge, where there will be lunch, a raffle and the presentation of awards, said Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

Potatoes are traditional prizes at the race. All paddlers from outside Aroostook County receive a bag of spuds from a local farm, Torres said.

Paddlers will also get a free lunch immediately following the race.

Registration is $20 for adults and $10 for children under 16. Pre-registration by mail, phone or at the chamber office is suggested, Torres said.

Check-in at the race site is from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and the mandatory race briefing begins at 9:30 a.m.

For information, contact Torres at 207-532-4216 or director@greaterhoulton.com.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...