One of the tell-tale annual signs spring was around the corner in the Midcoast has been the running of the popular St. George and Passagassawakeag (Passy) river whitewater paddle races.

The races attract large crowds to the rivers with high, fast waters and moderating spring temperatures as many paddle the raging, rock-filled whitewater in canoes, kayaks and on paddleboards in the hope to finish without taking an unplanned dip in the near-freezing waters.

Now, with the ongoing global health threat of COVID-19 — or coronavirus — running loftier than those high waters, the decision has been made to cancel the two events, according to longtime event organizer Dale Cross.

The 41st annual St. George River Race was slated for Saturday, March 28, while the 47th running of the ‘Passy’ was scheduled for Saturday, April 4, both for 11 a.m. starts.

For years, the events were organized and hosted by the Waldo County YMCA, under the guidance of Cross, longtime organization director, and Karen Varney, longtime employees of the organization.

Now that Cross and Varney have retired in the last 18 months — and with the YMCA without a replacement for either — the decision had been made on Feb. 5 to cancel the races.

“We face the difficult decision of no longer having a race director within our organization, therefore the Waldo County YMCA has made the decision to no longer run the races,” the organization said in a Facebook post.

However, Cross and Varney, along with their spouses, have since introduced Paddle Wild, in conjunction with Maine Operation Game Thief, which will continue the tradition of the two storied races.

“Our race theme, 'Paddle Wild,' reflects the excitement and exhilaration of the first open river whitewater of spring that so many paddlers look forward to every year,” according to the event’s Facebook page. “It also embodies the important mission of Maine Operation Game Thief (MOGT) to protect and preserve Maine's wildlife. MOGT is a private, non-profit organization which supports the work of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Maine Warden Service, Department of Marine Resources, Maine Marine Patrol, and Wildlife Crime Stoppers. MOGT pays rewards, if requested, to citizens who turn in poachers or individuals unlawfully introducing non-native fish species to lakes, ponds and streams of Maine. All proceeds from the race will benefit MOGT.”

Of course, those resurrected races have since been canceled as Cross and event organizers now look to 2021.

“We’re not being socially responsible if we continue with the race,” said Cross. “Even though there was a lot of excitement. A lot of folks registered early and were liking the [Facebook] page. The enthusiasm was really high until the last couple of weeks. This virus is going to put a stop to a lot of things this year.”

Cross was able to connect with Maine Operation Game Thief, run through the Maine Warden Service, as his son, Aaron, is a game warden.

Thus, Maine Operation Game Thief is now the event’s official sponsor.

Cross said much of the merchandise for this year’s event has already been manufactured, but that those things will carry over to next year’s events.

“We’re looking forward to the spring of 2021,” he said.

For more information, visit Paddle Wild on Facebook.

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