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posted: 5/18/2013 8:00 AM

Floods can't stop Des Plaines River canoe race

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  • April flooding is expected to have no lingering impact on the 56th annual Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon on Sunday.

    April flooding is expected to have no lingering impact on the 56th annual Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon on Sunday.
    Daily Herald file photo


Yes, the 56th annual Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon will go on as scheduled Sunday.

But that doesn't mean organizers didn't have a few things to worry about in the wake of last month's floods.

Co-Chairman Jack Snarr of Evanston said a close eye had to be kept on the level of the river during the days and weeks after the April 17-18 storm.

Luckily, though, the water level steadily dropped by about half a foot a day after the river crested. So much so, in fact, that there isn't much hope of a current to make Sunday's race easier for competitors.

Another worry was that trees might have fallen into the river along the 18-mile course, either blocking the way or creating an underwater obstacle. The river widens so much at one point that a willow tree could fall in and not be easily spotted, Snarr said.

"They did a marvelous job," Snarr said of maintenance crews up and down the river that have checked out its post-flood status.

Of course, what makes the 2013 race most distinct is it will be the first without its founder, Ralph Frese, who died in December at 86. The marathon he created in 1955 is now the second-oldest continual canoe race in the U.S.

"He was there last year at the start of the very first heat and said a little something," Snarr said.

Frese's wife, Rita, and daughter, Diane Gritton, will be there this year to award trophies to the winners, Snarr said.

Roughly 500 canoes and kayaks are expected this year, a bit of a drop-off from 40 years ago when Snarr's wife chaired the event and entries were cut off at 1,000.

The race begins at Oak Springs Road in Libertyville, with heats of eight boats each starting every two minutes starting at 8 a.m. Sunday.

The finish line is at Dam 2 near Kensington Road in Prospect Heights. There is an optional midcourse takeout at Rivershire Park just north of Ryerson Nature Preserve, which is popular with some first-time participants who want to do just half the course, Snarr said.

One of the most popular viewing spots for family and friends -- apart from the starting and finish lines -- is Dam 1 in Wheeling.

The Sunday brunch crowd at Allgauer's On The Riverfront restaurant at 2855 Milwaukee Ave. in Northbrook also enjoys a great view of the race every year, Snarr said. But Allgauer's manager Stephanie Greenberg said the restaurant really doesn't do anything itself to promote its prominent vantage point.

The course has remained almost exactly the same since 1958, Snarr said. This particular stretch of the Des Plaines River was chosen for its overall attractiveness, being narrow, winding and heavily forested for much of the course.

Information and $22 online registration can be found at Late registration on the day of the race costs $30.

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