by John Branston
The 30th annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race scheduled for May 7th has been canceled.
Race founder Joe Royer made the announcement Monday. He said all contestants will get a refund of their entry fees. Royer said forecasts call for the river to be eight feet above flood stage on May 7th and ten feet above flood stage a day after that. That would be 44 feet on the Memphis gage, the highest level since the record 48.7 feet in 1937.
"At this level, the parking area at the start of the race will be underwater," the announcement says, adding:
"We strongly considered rescheduling the event in June. After careful consideration, we realize that since the boat ramp at the north end of Mud Island is completely washed out and closed by the city with permanent barriers, the low-water conditions typical of June-July present a safety hazard for race participants. It is not part of the Memphis riverfront plan to rebuild this boat ramp."
"We at Outdoors Inc. sadly regret this announcement of the permanent cancellation of the OICK Race,"
The race has given thousands of Memphians and visitors as well as experienced competitive paddlers a chance to canoe on the Mississippi River under Coast Guard supervision. The course runs from the boat ramp on the north end of Mud Island to the south tip of Mud Island River Park and into the downtown harbor. Royer said the river isn't safe for novices at the predicted flood stage. Last year's race was canceled at the last minute due to tornado warnings.
There are three boat ramps on Mud Island. One is inside the park on the harbor. Another one is on the north end of the island and goes straight into the Mississippi River. It is in good shape and used mainly by fishermen. The "washed out" ramp (pictured) leads into the mouth of the Wolf River. Canoe race participants used the north boat ramp and parking area as a staging area, waiting in the slackwater of the Wolf River for the start of the race. On Monday, half of Greenbelt Park on Mud Island was underwater and the river was a few feet below the parking area.
In an interview, Royer said he would reconsider continuing the race next year if the boat ramp is rebuilt. But he said the Riverfront Development Corporation would have to make that decision. He wants the race to be safe for recreational paddlers as well as hardcores.
"Flooded trees become strainers," he said. "Along the bank is the most dangerous place to paddle."
Royer said the paddling scene locally has shifted to Shelby Farms and Patriot Lake, which has better facilities.
"It is just not a downtown thing," he said.
See the article on Memphis Flyer's Website