Riverfest Hits Choppy Water

Annual Event Threatened By Flood Warnings

Once again, weather conditions are wreaking havoc on the Ledyard Canoe Club’s Riverfest plans.

For the second straight year, the paddlers club of Dartmouth College has canceled its triathlon intended to help kick off a weekend of festivities culminating in Sunday’s popular Mascoma River Slalom in Lebanon.

Instead of the traditional first-leg discipline of swimming, the triathlon was to include a canoeing segment on the Connecticut River on Friday to start the race.

It was scheduled to begin and end at the Ledyard Canoe Club boathouse, finishing after a 1.4-mile round trip to Gilman Island south of downtown Hanover. Participants were to then embark on 8.9-mile cycling and 3.3-mile running segments through Hanover and Norwich.

It was canceled because of dangerously high water levels on the Connecticut River, according to Riverfest director Nathaniel Goss. Already intense because of dramatic spring runoff coinciding with unseasonably high temperatures earlier this week, conditions were exacerbated after Tuesday’s rain storm that caused flood warnings in the area.

Last year, the event was canceled because of cold temperatures and high winds.

Riverfest activities can draw novice boaters unaccustomed to paddling in difficult conditions, Goss noted..

“There are liability concerns involved. You just have to think, ‘safety first,’ ” the Dartmouth sophomore said. “The river is close to flood levels right now and there’s just no way of telling if it will be safe enough (Friday).”

Water levels could also jeopardize Goss’s favorite part of Riverfest, the Wells River Ramble. A one-mile, mass-start start race along Class IV rapids in Newbury, Vt., it’s scheduled for Saturday morning with a 10 a.m. registration. But Goss won’t green-light the event unless water levels creep below 800 cubic feet per second. According to American Whitewater, a nonprofit protection and preservation organization, the Wells River peaked at higher than 3,500 cubic feet per second overnight Tuesday, though it had settled back to below 1,750 by Wednesday afternoon.

“The thing about these small rivers is that they rise and fall really quickly when it rains, or if there’s a lot of snow melt and things like that,” Goss said. “I was looking at a national weather forecast for river levels and (the Wells) should be under 800 by Friday, so I’m optimistic. If it’s at 600 or below, we’ll go ahead with the mass start. If it’s between 600-800 cps, we’ll have time trials.”

Other options for the Ramble include the White River in Hartford or the Contoocook near Hopkinton, N.H., Goss said.

As for the cornerstone Mascoma River Slalom — according to Ledyard, the longest continuously running collegiate slalom race in the U.S. — Goss expects the 51st annual installment to begin Sunday morning as scheduled. The race draws about 50 paddlers and takes place at Baker’s Crossing Conservation Area, near the Packard Hill Covered Bridge off of Lebanon’s Bank Street Extension.

“It’s a little unclear, just because (the water levels) are so ridiculous right now,” Goss said. “I’m anticipating it’s going to drop enough to where we can have it, but people should keep checking our Facebook page to be sure.”

Unlike the triathlon, the Mascoma Slalom isn’t in danger of being cancelled outright.

“It’s a really popular race for alumni and community members. It needs to be run,” Goss said. “If we can’t have it this week, we’ll push it to next week.”

The first Riverfest event, dubbed “Conservation on Tap,” is a scheduled for today at 5 p.m. at the One Wheelock student lounge. It’s a screening of the documentary Trashed, which explores the effects of global waste, followed by an open discussion and, possibly, a presentation.

“We’ve run into some trouble getting a professor to speak. Some of them that might have done it are on sabbatical, so we may or may not have one,” Goss said. “We’re hoping to get good attendance anyway. It’s nicely timed, because a lot of people have exams and papers due this week, but will be done Thursday. So we’re hoping they’ll finish the grind and then come and hang out and watch.”

On Saturday, Ledyard will host a party celebrating the area’s rivers, lakes and ponds at Occum Pond in Hanover from 7-9 p.m. A raffle will be held to benefit American Whitewater, which promotes stewardship and conservation of U.S. rapids.

Ledyard Canoe Club was established in 1920 and scheduled a number of off-campus paddling trips every school year. Last month, the group spent spring break kayaking on rapids in North Carolina and Georgia.

“It’s an interesting club; (enthusiasm) kind of goes back and forth between canoeing and kayaking from what I understand,” said Goss, a native of Idaho. “For the last couple years that I’ve been here, we’ve been mostly centered on white water kayaking, but (this year’s freshman class) have some people who are interested in both. So it kind of maintains that connection between canoeing and kayaking.”

Find updated info about Ledyard Canoe Club Riverfest Activities at www.facebook.com/LCCRiverfest.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.