The New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association finds a place to compete in landlocked Vermont
By Kevin O’Connor
Sandy Harris can show you all the recreational highs of her Vermont hometown of Brattleboro, from the local outing club with its red clay tennis courts to New England’s sole Olympic-caliber ski jump — both created nearly a century ago by her late father, Fred.
But the Connecticut River that flows along the community’s eastern border?
“I drove over the bridges here my whole life,” she says, “and never thought about it as a place to spend hours of enjoyment.”
Then, Harris learned about the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association. The volunteer-run organization, marking its 40th year of founding in 1979, has transformed what current leaders describe as a once “rather disorganized” sport into a regional force orchestrating spring, summer and fall competitions in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The latter, landlocked Green Mountain State might seem an odd man out in an otherwise seaworthy group. But Harris saw differently six years ago when she joined paddlers, both individual and paired, at association events along waterways throughout the region.
“Here in Brattleboro we have this huge resource that is often overlooked,” Harris said of the Connecticut River, which is fenced off from downtown by a wall of business blocks. “A lot of us who train here thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great place to race?’ ”
At 410 miles from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound, the river is the region’s longest. Once a major transportation artery before the advent of trains and trucks, it hosted some of the nation’s first ferries, first shore-side factories and first ships to engage in foreign trade.
“It was on the Connecticut that the steamboat was invented and the first submarine was launched,” Edmund Delaney writes in his book “The Connecticut River: New England’s Historic Waterway.” “All along its shores are innumerable reminders of its long and exciting history and of the great personalities who, for over a period of 350 years, have had a profound impact upon American life.”
And continues to. Two years ago, Harris went from participant to planner by launching the annual “Brattle Paddle” — it’s scheduled for June 30 — in a community better known for winter ski jumping and its spring Strolling of the Heifers parade.
Harris also is helping to organize the 2019 New England Marathon Paddle Sport Championships, set to take place a half-hour’s trek north on the river, in Bellows Falls, on Aug. 4.
Organizers expect dozens of racers and recreational boaters to speed along the water in events aiming to pull a crowd.
“It’s not only steering but also reading the river, getting in the right current, catching and riding a wave,” Harris says. “I found in it this glorious sport where there’s competition and camaraderie.”
And eye-catching views.
“You don’t have to race — you can just grab a canoe and go out with friends,” she says. “You can hear all of the birds and wildlife, see a beaver or nesting eagle.”
Spectators are encouraged to watch not only at the start, but also on bridges and shorelines along the route.
“It’s extremely exciting, yet something very few people have seen around here,” Harris says of the sport. “I want them to come out and realize the river is such a great recreational resource.”•
Brattle Paddle Canoe, Kayak and SUP Race (flatwater)
What: Canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard races on the Connecticut and West rivers in Brattleboro. NECKRA race distance is 9 miles; recreational distance is 5 miles.
When: 10:30 a.m. June 30 (Registration: 8:30 to 10 a.m.)
Where: West River Marina, Brattleboro
Entry fee: $25
Information: neckra.org or at email@example.com or 603-363-4868
41st New England Marathon Paddlesport Championships
What: Canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard and surf ski races on the Connecticut River. NECKRA race is approximately 12 miles; recreational course is 5 miles.
When: 10:30 a.m. Aug. 4 (Registration: 8:30 to 10 a.m.)
Where: Herricks Cove, Bellows Falls
Entry fee: $25
Information: neckra.org or Sandy Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-363-4868; Ed Dinnany at Eds@vermontel.net or 802-762-2409
Kevin O’Connor is a Vermont native and Brattleboro Reformer contributor.