For much of this winter, the Fox River has looked more like frozen tundra than a vibrant waterway; a cold, white sheen of snow-caked ice, crisscrossed by wayward snowmobile trails and skinny ski tracks.
It's the river version of hibernation -- a stark contrast to what the Fox will soon look like this spring and, in particular, on June 1.
The Fox will spring to life on that first Sunday in June as the Mid-America Canoe and Kayak Race returns for its 53rd running. More than 1,000 paddlers will hit the river to enjoy this landmark event that celebrates the Fox River for the tremendous recreational resource that it is.
Registration is now open; we're confident winter will finally give way to spring, the ice will loosen its grip and the free-flowing river will reappear. Visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org to break water and register early.
More than 46,000 paddlers have taken part in this historic event since it first launched in 1961. Good times like these never get old. Amid long-held traditions and new features, this race continues to evolve.
Appealing to a wide range of abilities is a top priority. From first-timers to 30-year veterans, the Mid-Am strives to strike a balance between easygoing recreation and hard-core competition. With 20 different divisions -- 11 for canoes, 8 for kayaks and an open (noncompetitive) division -- there's a fit for everybody, and awards to the top three boats in every division.
The Mid-Am offers two race lengths, with a 10-mile course starting in St. Charles and a 6-mile race beginning in Batavia. Free shuttles run regularly between both start lines and the finish area. Both routes finish at the Illinois Avenue Bridge with a riverside celebration and lunch party at beautiful McCullough Park.
Early heats starting in St. Charles are "racers-only" to give the most competitive paddlers free run of the course and avoid potential crowding in tight spots and portages. Those who are less experienced at being on the river -- such as first-time paddlers and young families -- are able to start later and travel at a more leisurely pace.
The Mid-Am also offers discount boat rental packages that provide an affordable and hassle-free opportunity for those who don't have equipment. Nearly 200 boats were rented at the 2013 event as people took advantage of the opportunity to experience paddling the river.
Rental boats are provided by outfitters boasting a total rental fleet of 225 canoes and 100 kayaks available on June 1.
It's easy as 1-2-3. Enjoy the convenience of showing up and having a boat and gear waiting for you. After paddling the river, you simply leave everything at the line to enjoy lunch, camaraderie, music, awards and prize drawings at McCullough Park.
Speaking of food, paddlers and spectators alike will enjoy a variety of offerings at the finish line party. While each paddler receives lunch, T-shirt and goody bag with their registration, local vendors also will be on hand selling hot dogs, hamburgers, sub sandwiches, popcorn and other favorites.
Good times like these make for a great event, one that celebrates a shared, recreational resource -- 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. To register online for the Mid-Am visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org