Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race

Overview

The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, held annually on the third weekend of April, is the largest paddling event in New England and one of the largest in the country.

Hosted by the Bangor Dept. of Parks & Recreation, the 16.5 mile race begins in the Town of Kenduskeag and ends near the confluence of the Penobscot River in downtown Bangor.

The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race would not be possible without the dedication of numerous safety and support crews - most of whom are volunteers. They work hard to ensure a safe experience for race participants.

Bangor Dept. of Parks & Recreation
Telephone: (207) 992-4490
Mailing address: 647 Main Street, Bangor, ME 04401
Office hours: 8am - 4:30pm
Email: tim.baude@bangormaine.gov

How To Register

NOTE: registration by telephone is not permitted.

1. You may register for the race by downloading the 2022 registration form and mailing/fax/emailing the form in with your payment.
(The 2022 registration form will be available in February/March 2022).

2. You may register and pay online via Bangor Parks & Recreation once online registration opens.

3. You may also register in person by visiting the Bangor Parks & Recreation office.

NOTE: You MUST return a printed waiver/registration form to Bangor Parks & Recreation even if you registered online. This can be mailed to Bangor Parks & Recreation or sent via email (see contact information above.)

Registration fee is $35 per paddler (as of this writing; subject to change). No refunds are issued after one week before the race.

The race staff reserves the right to determine a paddler's final race classification.
(For more information about the various classes of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, visit the Race Classes page.)

Rules And Regulations

Everyone in each boat must sign or agree to disclaimer to receive your packet and to be allowed in the race.

No alcohol will be allowed in any craft (participants will be disqualified and may be banned from future races if found.)

No animals will be allowed in any craft.

ALL canoes will meet ACA WW Open Canoe Specifications

Beginner Class:
A beginner is anyone who has not finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any organized race in any class. If ANYONE in your boat has finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd in an organized race, you cannot enter the Beginner Class.

Recreational Class:
Includes ANY watercraft sold for general recreational use. In general, this includes ABS and polyethylene canoes and kayaks, as well as aluminium, wood or canvas canoes. The width (beam) of your canoe at 4" waterline must be at least 16% of the total length of your canoe.

Open Class:
This is for race teams numbering three or more canoeists or for contestants entering a watercraft that is not considered a canoe or a kayak. This class is also for contestants who wish to propel their watercraft with something other than a paddle (ie., oars or a setting pole). This class also includes war canoes.

Note: The race staff reserves the right to determine the final race classification for all participants.

No more than three boats can be registered from one household.

You must be at least 12 years of age (with an adult in the craft).

You must be at least 16 years of age (if no adult is present).

You must have consent of parent or guardian (if under 18 years of age.)

Coast Guard approved, over-the-shoulder, correctly sized life jackets must be worn at all times.

Numbered vests are to be worn OVER lifejackets.

Any disqualified contestants will surrender their numbered vests to safety personnel.

Kayakers and decked boaters MUST wear helmets at all times.

Kayakers using kayaks with exterior rigging should make sure such rigging is secured or removed in order to prevent snagging on limbs, trees, or other debris in the stream.

All racers in open canoes will use single blade paddles only. Racers in kayaks or decked boats may use either single or double blade paddles.

Overtaking / passing canoes have the right of way both in the water AND on portages.

Participants will not be disqualified if they accept only enough help to get them and their craft to shore. However, there can be NO assistance on portages from outside people, use of wheels, etc.

If you pass someone on the water who has spilled or appears to be having difficulty, you are to ask the person if they are OK or need assistance.

Craft must be in the water at all flat water checkpoints.

Use of grab loops or six foot ropes is encouraged, but they must be tied down or taped.

Participants will be disqualified by the sweep canoe if they have not passed Six Mile Falls by 2:30pm or have not reached the finish line by 3:30pm and/or if the sweep canoe determines that participants are not making an effort to race.

Six Mile Falls: Optional portage, but must pass under the bridge at the falls. Many paddlers simply shoot the falls, but this is at your discretion of course. It can be helpful to scout out the falls before the race to choose your best line of approach.

Flour Mill: Mandatory portage. Must go under I-95 bridge in water. No exceptions.

Maxfield Mill: Mandatory portage. Must portage on upstream side of Valley Avenue bridge from either the left or right side of the stream. No exceptions. (See the Course Maps page on this website for an overview.)

Special Note: If you can't visit Six Mile Falls before the race, comments will be posted on the Kenduskeag Facebook Page and/or Mike's Blog (on this site) with last minute photos, videos and insights from paddlers who have scouted things out.

Other Important Notes

Preregister for the race to save time and money and to get an earlier placement within your class so that you are ahead of the pack.

Identify your craft number, check points, and the finish line.

Race organizers are NOT responsible for lost watercraft. It is suggested that you ID your boats, paddles and other gear in the event of loss. Use special tape and/or permanent ink marker with your phone number in case your equipment is found downstream (or in some cases, downriver.) The next stop after that? Portugal.

Awards will be presented immediately following the race near the takeout area, typically around 2:30pm - 3pm.

Shuttle buses will be available at the finish line to transport contestants back to the Town of Kenduskeag.

TIP: If you do lose a boat or other items in the Kenduskeag, check in with the Blog section of this website after the race, where a "Lost & Found Box" is posted. Also, be sure to check with Bangor Parks & Recreation.

To all race participants and spectators: you are kindly asked to remember that you are a guest of the Town of Kenduskeag. Please respect the private property of its citizens, as well as any parking regulations along all race areas.

TIP: Pre-registering for the race saves you time and money.

Keep tabs on the current water levels and flow of the Kenduskeag Stream with the USGS stream gauge.

The stream maps page has been updated for detailed assistance.

Extended weather forecast for the Bangor area.

Check in with the canoe race blog for race news and updates. Post your own thoughts and comments. (The blog is active from February through May.)

If you are new to paddling or just want to brush up, a paddler's glossary has been posted here to get you up and running with terms and definitions.

Getting There: Directions & Maps

The Town of Kenduskeag, Maine is approximately 12 miles NNW of Bangor on Rt. 15 (aka ME-15).

From Portland and points south, you can get to Kenduskeag via Newport (I-95 exit #161), and you then must connect to the Rt. 222 (aka The Stetson Road).
Here is a map with directions.

From points north or south you can also get to Kenduskeag via the Broadway exit in Bangor (I-95 exit #185). Turn a right off of the exit to head north on Broadway (Rt. 15).
Here is a map with directions.

Visit the Stream Maps page for detailed maps regarding location, course, portages, etc.

How To Dress For The Kenduskeag

Rescue teams recommend that ALL race participants wear appropriate clothing due to the extreme cold water temperatures as well as cold ambient air temperatures. You may become severely hypothermic and require medical attention if you are not wearing the proper clothing.

Recommended clothing includes: a wet or dry suit if you have one, or polypropylene fleece or wool clothing which will help to keep you warm even if it becomes wet.

The WORST things to wear? Cotton clothing (i.e. jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt/pants). Many people will show up each year wearing this anyway, and many people each year become severely hypothermic and require medical attention because they are not dressed properly.

Some paddlers find wetsuits to be too warm; many racers wear loose shorts and shirts, dry shell paddling wear or long underwear. Use your own discretion.

Try not to bring keys, mobile devices or anything else you do not want to get wet or possibly lose in the boat with you. Waterproof cases can work well, but they are by no means foolproof and can be lost downstream along with anything else you may own.

Wear shoes that are comfortable and will allow you to exit the boat quickly. Large boots are not necessarily a good idea. Shoes should have some traction on the soles for climbing up steep banks during a portage. Running shoes with a good tread are usually good enough. Light, waterproof trail shoes may be your best bet. Some people like to wear Crocs. Yeah, I know.

It's a good idea to clearly mark your boat and equipment in some manner with your last name and phone number in case of loss.

If you are wearing a helmet (and all kayakers and decked-boaters must have one) be sure to purchase a helmet rated for the sport and conditions in which you are participating. A cheap shell may not be sufficient to spare your noggin from rough bumps. Helmets designed for whitewater sports are recommended.

Do not tether your wrists or hands to your paddle. It's not worth a potential hazard. Stow a backup paddle if this is a concern.

Something to keep in mind: while there are a lot of good Samaritans out there who assist paddlers with lost items after the race, it's also true that paddlers lose items in the stream every year which are never recovered. If the possibility of losing a certain item to the stream causes you anxiety, it's best to leave it at home.

Paddling School: How To Race Prep Your Boat

If you've ever wondered how to get your boat (and yourself) ready for the Kenduskeag, you've come to the right place!

Because this section is chock full of solid information and sage advice, I've created a special page just for it. So check out this must-read guide: How To Prepare For The Kenduskeag.

Special thanks to Jeff Owen and the good folks at MaCKRO (Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization) for providing many of these invaluable insights.

Aspiring paddlers may wish to check out the the shorter whitewater races in the weeks leading up to the Kenduskeag: The St. George River Race, The Passy River Race, The Souadabscook Stream Race and the Marsh Stream Race. All are challenging races held during Maine's relatively short whitewater season. Visit MaCKRO for more information.

A Guide For Spectators (aka River Vultures)

River Vulture
Noun
riv·​er | \ ˈri-vər
vul·​ture | \ ˈvəl-chər \

1: River - a natural stream of water of usually considerable volume
2: Vulture - any of various large birds (families Accipitridae and Cathartidae) that are related to the hawks, eagles, and falcons but have weaker claws and the head usually naked and that subsist chiefly or entirely on carrion
3: River Vulture - spectators at the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race who sometimes show up to cheer on the paddlers, but mostly show up to watch paddlers go ass-over-teakettle in the falls

* * *

It is generally believed that it was Maine broadcaster Bill Green who popularized the term "river vultures" back in 1985. Then with WLBZ-TV, Green used this term to describe the race spectators at Six Mile Falls. But it seems likely that it was writer Larry Mahoney, then with the Bangor Daily News, who might have suggested the term 'river vulture' in a vivid article he wrote for the paper in 1977.

So where are the best places to watch the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe race in person?

* * *

Six Mile Falls

Here's the long and the short of it: if you want to watch to a bunch of poor souls being dumped out of their canoes into water so cold it often causes momentary loss of breath and pulse, you want to go to Six Mile Falls. Expect lots of company.

As the name implies, Six Mile Falls is six miles NNW of Bangor on Rt. 15. (You head north of Bangor starting on Broadway towards the Town of Kenduskeag.) You can't miss the bridge: it's where a a bunch of people and cars will be lined up unless you get there earlier than the average bear. The bridge near Six Mile Falls becomes a sort of camp for the crowds of "vultures" which include not only spectators but radio and television broadcast vehicles as well.

Six Mile Falls is a Class II-III rapid depending on the water level and discharge for any given year, and it's a place where you are likely to see some teakettle.

Which brings us to another point: WHEN should you show up at the Six Mile Falls to watch the paddlers cruising (or flailing) by? Consider this: the race begins in Kenduskeag at around 8:30am. Typically, the first paddlers will not begin to show up at Six Mile Falls until around 10am. (Give or take, depending on conditions and paddlers).

Note that I wrote first paddlers. Usually the first padders to arrive at Six Mile Falls are the fastest. This includes elite paddlers and war canoes. The bulk of the intermediate/beginner classes, however, won't show up at Six Mile until closer to 11am! But respectable vultures should arrive early no matter what. Bring a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa. The fresh spring air will do you good, and you'll meet other fun-loving vultures.

TIP #1: If it even looks like it might rain, bring an umbrella and/or a water resistant hooded jacket. Because if the weather is happening, it's happening on your head.
You can stand underneath the bridge if the weather is bad, but it can become a bit crowded. On a nice day you can skip the bridge altogether and stand on the side of the stream, perhaps after finding a good rock or log to sit on. Unless the banks of the stream have swollen and the streamside meadow has flooded, that is.

TIP #2: If you stand on the bridge, try to find a good viewing spot that isn't too close to the TV news truck, which runs a very loud (and smelly) generator. It can rattle your skull and choke you with fumes. It really isn't that much fun.

TIP #3: In her BDN blog Act Out With Aislinn, Aislinn Sarnacki wrote "Canoe race watchers: things to consider". Do check it out. Her suggestions are spot on!

If standing around at Six Mile Falls sounds a bit too crowded or festive or maybe just isn't your cup of tea, take heart. You do have some splendid (often quieter) options.

Valley Avenue

During the course of the race, there are several excellent vantage points running alongside the path on Valley Avenue closer to Bangor. Small parking lots and picnic areas make this streamside "strip" highly attractive to vultures and for good reason.

You can find many spots along Valley Avenue to watch or photograph paddlers as they cruise by, parallel to the pleasant walking path which is part of Kenduskeag Stream Park. Typically this area is much less crowded than Six Mile Falls, mostly because Six Mile is where a lot of the "drama" is. The viewing spots along Valley Avenue are probably best suited for the vultures who appreciate a little peace and quiet.

The Start And/Or Finish

If you can find parking early in the morning near Discovery Park in the Town of Kenduskeag (a challenge sometimes on race day) you can watch all of the participants unload their boats, prep everything, and generally mingle with other paddlers. The countdown to the start of the race is lively, and boats are launched in small groups at timed intervals. The start of the race can be a blast!

What about the finish line? It's in downtown Bangor and parking is usually ample. Walk over one of the canal bridges and you'll get a nice overhead view of the incoming paddlers.

Closer to Bangor you usually won't see the bulk of the paddlers arrive until noon or thereabouts. Fatigued paddlers or those who have had difficulty on the stream will often finish the race in the 1pm-3pm window.

The "Whitman's Sampler" Approach

Some spectators like to show up at the start of the race in Discovery Park (Town of Kenduskeag) and then, after several launches, they'll take off for Six Mile Falls. Later, they'll leave Six Mile for Valley Avenue or some other stop along the stream and eventually they'll reach the finish line to catch the paddlers coming through Bangor.

Most of the time the people who attempt to do this are following a particular paddler or a group. For the casual spectator, hitting all of the aforementioned spots along the race course will certainly give you a decent cross-section of what the race is all about, but parking hassles and traffic rerouting might take some of the fun out of it. Sometimes it pays to station yourself in one area.

A Friend's Streamside Backyard

Admittedly, this suggestion is a stretch, but it's worth mentioning in any case. The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is 16.5 miles long, and there are lots of houses dotting both sides of the stream. If you want to watch the paddlers go by and you know someone who lives by the stream, this might be a good time to set up a play date, or a lunch date, or a BBQ….something.

Several acquaintances have told me over the years how much they enjoy watching the canoe race from a friend's backyard while socializing. Low traffic, low stress. Relax with your friends, wave to the paddlers and enjoy your favorite beverage. And if it's a warm spring day? Golden.

Television Coverage / Internet Streaming

And what if you'd rather not brave the elements, throngs of spectators, traffic or inclement weather? You can often watch the race from the comfort of your own home on television via the excellent coverage of WABI-TV5 (CBS). The station also streams the canoe race on their website. Coverage usually begins at 10am and lasts until noon. (I've often wished they would extend their coverage to 1pm as large numbers of paddlers are just beginning to arrive at Six Mile Falls at noon, but I digress.)

NOTE: check local listings as TV coverage is never a given: if the race conditions are deemed problematic for the station, or if there is a sporting event occurring at the same time on Saturday which draws a much wider television audience, the station may decide to pull the plug on canoe race coverage for that given year. Check with WABI-TV5 or keep an eye on the blog of this site for updates.

The Kenduskeag: History & Trivia

The name "Kenduskeag" is attributed to the Penobscot Indians, who called the stream "the place where eels gather", "the eel catching place", or "the place where eels are speared". On a related note, American eels - snakelike fishes which can grow to 3 feet in length - live in fresh water from early youth to breeding time, when they migrate to saltwater.

Although the race course is 16.5 miles long, the Kenduskeag Stream is twice that length. It is the most intensively farmed watershed in the Penobscot River Basin. Historically, it has been an important producer of Atlantic salmon.

Sawmills once dotted the stream and some remnants of the old mills can still be seen today. For decades, the Kenduskeag Stream was highly polluted, so much so that many locals wouldn't go too close to it, let alone swim in it. Clean water legislation and other regulations resulted in a rehabilitation of the stream in many respects.

Naturalist/writer Henry David Thoreau enjoyed hikes along the Kenduskeag Stream during his visits to Bangor over 150 years ago, taking note of the plant and flower life along its banks. Thoreau didn't spend too much time around the Kenduskeag Stream however. Finding it "over developed", he wanted to visit the "true wilderness" and would continue his journey to northern Maine.

The idea of holding a canoe race to mark the beginning of spring came from Ed "Sonny" Colburn and Lew Gilman, who organized the first race which was held in May of 1967.

According to "Tales of the Kenduskeag", a wonderful book edited by Jim Smith and Fern Stearns, the initial idea for the race came about with a quick phone call:

Ed: "Lew, what do you think about having a canoe race on the Kenduskeag?"
Lew: "It sounds like a helluva good idea to me. Let's meet tonight - get started right off."

The two were struck with inspiration at an ideal time: while they couldn't round up any interested sponsors, the Bangor Department of Parks & Recreation sought a springtime community project to organize after attempting a bicycle race the previous spring, which, in Ed's words, "went zilch". Bangor Parks & Recreation got on board with the canoe race concept and the rest is history.

A total of 34 contestants paddled down the Kenduskeag Stream in that inaugural year of 1967. Although the number of paddlers varies from year to year, as many as 1,500 contestants have participated in a single race during the mid-1990s. Since 1967, over 28,000 paddlers have participated in the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

Over time, race participation has seen ups and downs but the growth of the race since its inception is undeniable. The race is a fixture of Maine.
Here's a look at the total number of boats and paddlers registered for each race since 1967. (PDF file)

Race decals, given to all registered paddlers, have been spotted around the globe.
(Example of a race decal from the 40th Anniversary Race).

The current course record of 1:50:08 is held by Robert Lang of Renforth, New Brunswick, who set the record in 1997. On top of that, Lang has dominated the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race with eleven total wins.

I've put together a timeline of the Kenduskeag which outlines some of the highlights of the past 40+ years.

10 miles of the race course are on flat water. The other 6.5 miles are more or less divided into Class I, II, and III rapids, with Six Mile Falls being the most notorious.

Although the Kenduskeag race involves a certain degree of risk, safety is a paramount concern among the race organizers and rescue teams.

No two races are alike. Water levels change each year, throwing a curveball to perennial racers. The amount of snowpack built up over winter, the subsequent melting and runoff, and the amount of precipitation in the days leading up to the race all play a role in the volume and swiftness of the stream, measured in cubic feet per second.

Many veteran paddlers wait until the day before the race to make last minute judgments while scouting sections of the stream for tricky areas or portage points.

Conventional wisdom holds that the higher the water, the faster the water. Throw a skilled paddler into this equation, and you have the makings of a potential record breaking year. It is no coincidence that ten of the twenty two fastest times recorded in the Kenduskeag race occurred in 1997 and 2007, when the stream was very high and very swift.

Conversely, the lower the water, the slower the race. A paddler must work harder in these conditions, and exposed rocks present yet another obstacle. It can be hard on boats, too.

Some paddlers have noted that the different colors of the many kayaks and canoes can be seen "painted" on the rocks just below the surface in certain shallow parts of the stream, which can take on the appearance of brightly colored aquarium pebbles.

The rapids, rocks and waves represent a challenge to paddlers, but some veterans of the race have claimed that overturned boats and dumped swimmers are the true obstacle course. Canoes and kayaks can pile up at the rapids, leading to the Three C's: chaos, collisions and carnage.

The final leg of the race takes contestants through a different sort of Three C's: The calm concrete canals of downtown Bangor. Onlookers shout out words of encouragement to those who are almost too exhausted to continue.

One longstanding tradition (pun intended) of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is Zip Kellogg (photo sequence), who stands upright in his canoe for the entire length of the race. Usually dressed in natty threads with a bouquet of flowers on the bow of his canoe, Zip is a veteran paddler and a crowd favorite. Zip has paddled extensively for many years and is the author of "The Whole Paddler's Catalog: Views, Reviews and Resources".

Another crowd favorite is the Gumby canoe & crew. There have been many variations of the "novelty act" on the Kenduskeag, with an assortment of paddlers dressed as pirates, gorillas, princesses, clowns, vikings - you name it. And all of them are wonderful! But most of these creative characters come and go. The Gumby Boat, like Zip Kellogg, has become something of an icon of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Consistent paddlers of the race since the early 1990s, The Gumbies were once featured in an issue of Sports Illustrated. You can't miss them.

Concrete canoes?! Unlike the proverbial screen door on a submarine - don't laugh, they keep the fish out - concrete canoes are for real. Engineering students at the University of Maine build and race concrete molded canoes, and they have done so since the 1970s. Hernia truss optional.

The "Shopping Cart" section of rapids on the Kenduskeag Stream, close to Bangor, got its name from a large number of shopping carts inexplicably dumped there years ago. To this day, the site is known to many locals as the "Shopping Cart Hole".

The Kenduskeag Stream features prominently in Stephen King's book "It", published in 1986. The stream runs through an area called "The Barrens" as well as the canals located in the center of Derry, Maine. It has been said that King modeled certain aspects of the fictional town of Derry on the city of Bangor, although Bangor is also mentioned in the book.