Kayakers, runners enjoy river and road races

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Victor Darr of Clinton navigates through the Naugatuck River near downtown Beacon Falls Saturday afternoon at the third annual Naugatuck Valley River Race.  Darr, who has been kayaking for 8 years, took first place in the solo long kayak division. Darr said he "felt pumped" and was excited to be in the water. "It was so much fun, and is such a great event," he said.
Victor Darr of Clinton navigates through the Naugatuck River near downtown Beacon Falls Saturday afternoon at the third annual Naugatuck Valley River Race. Darr, who has been kayaking for 8 years, took first place in the solo long kayak division. Darr said he "felt pumped" and was excited to be in the water. "It was so much fun, and is such a great event," he said.

BEACON FALLS – Morning showers turned to afternoon delight Saturday at the Naugatuck River Race and 5k Road Race Festival behind Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 in Beacon Falls.

Hundreds of festival-goers, kayakers, and runners turned out at the multi-faceted event which served as a combination outdoorsman event, fundraiser, food and entertainment festival, and kickoff to the annual “Shop Locally Sweepstakes.”

The feature event, the kayak and canoe race, started up the Naugatuck River in Waterbury and finished under the Depot Street bridge in Beacon Falls. Races were contested in a number of categories, including individual and team kayak and canoes in both the novice (six miles) and expert (6.5 miles) divisions. The event was a United States Canoe Association sanctioned race.

David Wiltey, competing in the expert solo long kayak division, completed the course quickest, finishing in 58 minutes and 40 seconds. Congressman Rob Simmons and his wife, Heidi, won the novice mixed tandem canoe division with a time of one hour, seven minutes and 14 seconds.

The morning rain and low water level in the river combined to drive the number of kayakers in this year’s race down from 2009.

“We had about half the racers as last year because of the weather,” event coordinator Bob Bradley said. “We had more people pre-registered this year, but the weather put a damper on things. Fortunately, the total participants of the day was about the same thanks to the road race.”

The Naugatuck River Race teamed up with the 5k Road Race for the first time this year. The 5k Road Race benefits the Laurel Ledge PTO and the Nick Bielik Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship fund was founded by Bielik’s parents last year after the Beacon Falls native was struck and killed by a car at Rutgers University in 2008.

The festival held behind Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 was perfectly situated at the ending points for both the River Race and 5k Road Race as hundreds of visitors joined the racers in perusing the grounds. Dozens of vendors were stationed around the grounds, including local businesses, restaurants, and sporting goods shops.

Also brightening the day were two acts of live music, including a tribute to Nick Bielik by his cousin and a long set by the Steve Gregory Band, much to the delight of the crowd.

“The event went off great,” Bradley said. “Despite the weather, we had a good turnout at the festival.”

A $900 kayak donated by CT Outdoors was raffled off at the end of the day. Also sponsoring the event were the Beacon Falls Merchants Association, the Beacon Falls Pharmacy, Hillside Auto, NEJ, A Space Center, Perry’s Dry Cleaners, Hoinsky, Bicycle Works of Middlebury, Goldenrod Corporation, and Ford Pharmacy.

The festival also served as the kickoff to the Beacon Falls Merchants Association’s “Shop Locally Sweepstakes,” an event started last year by Bradley and the BFMA to encourage residents to patronize local stores.

A free game piece can be found in this week’s Citizen’s News. Patrons earn additional game pieces for each $10 spent at a BFMA business. This year’s grand prize is a $2,000 vacation donated by E-Z Travel of Ansonia. The drawing will be held at the annual Beacon Falls Duck Race and RiverFest Oct. 2.

“For every one dollar spent at a local business, 60 cents goes back to the community,” Bradley said. “Local businesses are the prime supporters of our sports teams and booster clubs. When you spend that money out of town at big stores, none of it comes back. It’s all about supporting the town.”