Des Plaines River canoe race roars back after one-year hiatus
A year after organizers canceled the Des Plaines River Canoe & Kayak Marathon out of safety concerns, the 62nd edition of the annual event bounced back strong Sunday.
With the 18.5-mile course from Libertyville to Mount Prospect unencumbered by dams for the first time, organizers were expecting a quick trip downstream for the competitors.
"We have the potential for this to be the fastest race ever," said Bill McDermott, a director of the Des Plaines River Association. "No one has ever broken two hours. We have had people close. Maybe this will be the year."
Organizers called off last year's race after high water levels -- a record 12 feet in some spots -- created conditions believed too dangerous for the paddlers. For this year's running, the rose to a more comfortable level of four feet.
Jim Pechous of Lombard and J.B. Hatler of Hanover Park, both from the St. Charles Canoe Club, crossed first in their kayak shortly after 10:25 a.m. They left the starting point at 8:08 a.m.
"It was good," Pechous said. "It was good water level. Glad it didn't rain."
Even without the rain, he said there was at least one challenge.
"There was one branch that we went over that, I think, more people are probably going to have problems with today," he said. "This week was a perfect level. It would have been nice if it was a foot higher."
Besides better water levels, canoeists and kayakers were eager to try to course without dams impeding their progress.
"The river is so much better now without the dams. It just makes the whole thing flow a lot better," said Chuck Jensen, a veteran paddler from Des Plaines who was volunteering at the race Sunday. "Everyone would have to stop, get out, and drag their boat around a dam, if they were smart enough to see it. A lot of people didn't even know there was a dam and they would hit it, and then that would cause more problems."
The race attracted residents not only from the Midwest, but even from Denmark.
Susan Lutzner of Copenhagen said she was in Chicago for a business meeting when she heard about the race. Through Gareth Stevens of the St. Charles Canoe Club, she was able to procure a kayak and enter the race.
Mount Prospect resident Ed Graham, who has taken part in the race for more than 40 years, said he enjoys "all the different people you see from all over the Midwest and the country."