For an example of community spirit, creativity, athleticism and boating skills this weekend, look no further than Sterling's Moose River, where the 23rd annual Moose River Raft and Canoe Races will take place.
The event is a long-standing tradition in Sterling that centers more around having a good time than competition.
"The ones that do it have fun and they want to come back and do it again," said Millie Hirth, organizer of the event.
The canoe race kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday. Anyone over 18 with valid identification and a personal flotation device can participate, although they must provide their own canoe and paddle. Teams of three people are allowed in each canoe, with only two rowing.
The race used to be broken up by gender, but this year organizers decided to make it co-ed.
"I think it would be more interesting because the women might win first prize," Hirth said. "But it doesn't really matter as long as they are out there competing."
Rafts push off from Pooler's Landing in Sterling in a late 1980s river raft.
Photo courtesy Millie Hirth
Participants can register for the race and the river raft at Millie's Bar in Sterling at 10 a.m. Saturday. The entry fee for each event is $15. The co-ed canoe race starts at the Izaak Walton dock on the Moose River. Canoers will race from there, under the Moose River Bridge to Pooler's Landing. Then they will turn around a designated boat and race back to the dock to the finish line. First place will receive $300, second place gets $200 and third gets $100.
The river raft begins after the canoe race at Pooler's Landing. From there the rafts will float to the Izaak Walton dock, where a motor boat will tow the rafts back to Pooler's Landing to be taken out of the water. The river raft is a parade rather than a race. Organizers will award plaques in six categories, including Best In Show, Most Original, and Bottoms Up.
Participants in the river raft also must wear flotation devices. The rafts must be homemade, with no nails or anything sharp used in the construction, and no motors, mechanical devices, boats, canoes or airplane floats incorporated into the raft. No pushing or shoving another raft or canoe is allowed in either event.
The river is not dangerous to boat, but safety boats will be stationed along the canoe race and river raft course, just in case.
"It's a real slow river and real peaceful," Hirth said. "It's not even deep until you get to the bridge."
A party and awards ceremony will follow at 6 p.m. at Millie's Bar, with music by Turk, Gypsy, The Big Spanker and Lee. Tee-shirts and food will be available to purchase.
The rafts float down the Moose River to the Izaak Walton dock.
Photo courtesy Millie Hirth
The event was started in 1979 by Suzie Grant, who owned Suzie's Bar in Sterling. Hirth took over the bar in 1981 and has been organizing the river raft and canoe race since then.
Most years about 200 people come to watch the races, Hirth estimated. This year is the latest the event has been held, but if it's a success, Hirth plans to hold it this time of year in the future.
Anyone interested is encouraged to come watch or participate. Hirth is hoping for some new blood to get into the spirit this year.
"I think if the younger people really get involved and really like to do this, then maybe they'll just carry it on. I hope I'm not the finish of it. I would like to see it go on. ... Everybody comes out and has a good time."
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