Fall has arrived in all its colourful glory but this weekend in Bracebridge the action is back on the water.
Now in its fifth year on the Muskoka River, the Great Muskoka Paddling Experience has seen steadily increasingly numbers, and organizers are expecting in excess of 240 boats this weekend.
“Last year’s event saw 211 boats, including canoes and outriggers, with two paddlers each on board so there were at least 240 paddlers,” says organizer Sandy Schofield. “Our online registration is out pacing last year’s – 105 versus 73. I think we could see 240 boats this Saturday – fingers crossed.”
However, Schofield says numbers can be very hard to predict because they are largely weather dependant. That includes not only the weather In Bracebridge, but the weather in regions where the paddlers are coming from.
“If it is pouring at their home they’re less likely to make the trip,” says Schofield.
A number of factors have helped to play into the event’s success, says Schofield, one of the most significant being the race was named 2015 Race of the Year by the Ontario Marathon Canoe and Kayak Racing Association. In fact, it’s the third time the race has earned the distinction in its five year history.
“This is a big feat, earning this recognition over 18 other races held in Ontario,” he says. “Many criteria come into consideration – event management, race course design and management, volunteers, sponsor involvement.”
Falling on the Thanksgiving Weekend every year has actually played to the event’s advantage, says Schofield, as they’ve been able to position themselves as one of the major “end of season” events.
“It’s a long weekend and you still have Sunday and Monday to recover,” he says. “There’s a lot of camaraderie by paddlers who have been competing all season long.”
The event also has a dedicated core of volunteers who offer a “Muskoka quality,” welcome, says Schofield, and 10 motorboats (including the Town’s fire boat) patrolling the water for safety purposes.
“We think it’s necessary as the water is much colder than in the summer,” he says. “Paddlers note and appreciate this sort of attention.”
The fact that the event supports the Muskoka Watershed Council also tends to entice paddlers, as the Council is well regarded as the primary steward of water quality in the region.
Grants from the Town and increased media support have also helped the cause, as has word of mouth among paddlers from across the province.
The course will once again feature 5 km, 10km and 20 km distances, but the age groupings have been changed slightly to encourage younger paddlers to take part.
Spectators are encouraged to come up, cheer on the paddlers and enjoy the spectacle – which will include a 40 foot dragon boat being powered by 20 rowers.