In its 55th year, the Des Plaines River Canoe & Kayak Marathon is a great spectator event, as well as being fun for the paddlers. The course is 18½ miles on the beautiful and historic Des Plaines River.
Best places to watch:
Start: Lake County Forest Preserve District canoe launch, Oak Spring Road.
Dam #1: Unless there's a race day change of heart, paddlers must portage this dam, getting out of the water on the west side of the river and putting back in downstream of the dam.
Former site of Ryerson Dam: A half-mile walk from the parking lot of the Ryerson Nature Center but view is great.
Rivershire Park: Midpoint of the race, with a takeout option for paddlers who've had enough. Park is accessible from Londonderry Lane, west of Riverwoods Road and just north of Ryerson Nature Preserve.
End: Dam #2, at Kensington Road in Prospect Heights. Parking: Camp Pine Woods Forest Preserve parking lot (east of Route 45; south of Euclid/West Lake Avenue). Overflow parking: Lot east of river, north of Lake/Euclid; or lot west of river, north of Lake/Euclid.
Finish area: Special commemorative and nature exhibits, food and entertainment.
About the race:
• Start time: 8 a.m. Canoes/kayaks start in heats of eight, every two minutes.
• How long: In 2011, the fastest time was 2:17:16, the longest time was 6:58:07. The first boat to cross the finish line isn't necessarily the winner, since all the boats start in heats.
• Started in 1958, the race is the second-oldest continuous canoe marathon in the U.S.
• The Hollister Dam, a half-mile above Route 60, and Daniel Wright Woods Dam, 1¼ miles south of Route 60, may be run at the paddlers' discretion. The wisdom of this depends on the water level, the paddlers' skill, and a willingness to risk boat damage or dumping.
• Every year race proceeds not earmarked for future races are given to an organization related to canoeing or the Des Plaines River. Among past donations: waterfront programs at "One Step at a Time Camp" for children with cancer; building the canoe launches at Oak Spring Road and at Route 60; posting signs warning of dams ahead.
For information, www.canoemarathon.com.