The Fox River has provided me a lifetime of recreation -- four decades worth that started with boyhood fishing adventures and has evolved into bird-watching kayak trips today.
That beautiful river, our shared community resource, has given me and countless others a stream of enjoyment that just keeps on flowing.
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If you goWhat: 51st annual Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race
When: Heats of 10 begin launching at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 3 (10:30 a.m. for Batavia races). Shuttle buses operate from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Starts at Mount St. Mary Park on Route 31 in St. Charles or Batavia VFW on Route 25; ends at McCullough Park, 150 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora
Cost: Registration ranges from $15 to $55
Details: (630) 859-8606; www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org
Like the river itself, the Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race has been a reliable old friend. Every year during my youth, on the first Sunday in June, my friends and I made a beeline on our bikes to downtown Batavia for a riverside view.
That was decades ago, but the giddy excitement still stirs every year.
On Sunday, June 3, the Mid-Am celebrates its 51st anniversary. It started in 1961, the brainchild of former Beacon News outdoors writer Bob White (real name Roy O'Neil). Since then, an estimated 40,000 canoes and kayaks have plied this waterway and taken out at McCullough Park.
Like the paddlers themselves -- and the boats they paddle -- the Mid-Am has evolved. Dam work on the river forced the race to move its starting point from South Elgin to St. Charles in the mid-1990s, making it a 10-mile route. And, in 2008, the Mid-Am added a shorter alternative -- a 6-miler starting in Batavia -- that opens the door for first-time paddlers and young families.
This year's race will expand to 20 divisions in all -- 11 canoe, eight kayak and one open (noncompetitive) division -- including an unlimited division to accommodate all the cutting-edge racing boats.
There's even talk by some enthusiasts who plan to do the Mid-Am on a standup Paddleboard. But don't expect to stand in line while waiting for a shuttle -- a fleet of five vans and buses is reserved, including a full-size school bus.
As in previous years, the early heats have been reserved for competitive racers, giving them "free run" of the course while also helping them avoid potential crowding in tight spots and portages.
Also, the Mid-Am will have staff and volunteers offering assistance to paddlers who request help at the three portages -- dams in Geneva, Batavia and North Aurora. There is a catch, though; assistance will only be provided to those in the open (noncompetitive) division.
Offering to help carry boats makes things easier for those who request assistance. Generally, paddlers in the open division sign up simply to enjoy the river experience and the atmosphere. Meanwhile, those racing for awards (all other divisions) are on their own at the portages so there is no perceived advantage given to one team over another.
If you're a late-decider, there's still time to get in on the action. Day-of registration is available ($5 additional per paddler) at both starting areas. But don't delay on race day -- heats of 10 boats will be sent off every four minutes, so things move quickly. Day-of registration is payable in either cash or check (no credit cards).
Afterward, paddlers and spectators alike will enjoy a variety of offerings at the finish line party. While each paddler receives a sub sandwich and chips, local vendors will be on hand selling hot dogs, hamburgers, sub sandwiches, popcorn and other favorites.
It's all in celebration of one great, shared, recreational treasure -- the Fox River -- and the people who enjoy it.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For details the Mid-Am, visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org