Annual River Race returns to Beacon Falls

It’s spring. And in Beacon Falls, that means it’s time for the 4th Annual Naugatuck Valley River Race and Festival.

In the four years since its inception, the race has become the largest canoe and kayak race in the New England area, according to Bob Bradley, one of the race’s organizers.

“The whole idea is just to have a good time and celebrate the cleanliness and the rebirth of the river,” he said.

Having grown up in Beacon Falls, Bradley said it’s pleasant to enjoy the river recreationally after seeing it when it turned a different color every day depending on what chemicals were dumped in it.

He said as the river winds through the Naugatuck valley, you can’t see the road and the only thing you can see is the cliffs rising up on either side.

“It’s pretty neat,” Bradley said.

Organizers hope to bring in about 300 kayak and canoe racers of all skill levels to enjoy a day of paddling down the Naugatuck River. The event attracted 300 participants two years ago, but only 100 came out last year due to bad weather, Bradley said.

“We’re hoping for a good turnout this year if the weather cooperates with us,” he said.

The six-mile course passes through three towns–Waterbury, Naugatuck, and Beacon Falls–before finishing at the Beacon Falls Firehouse on North Main Street. The race is scheduled for May 7 and registration begins at 9 a.m. Racers will meet at South Main Street and Platts Mills Road in Waterbury at 11 a.m. for an 11:30 a.m. kickoff. They can drop their boats off at the start and drive to Beacon Falls to park at the train station lot. Free shuttle busses will take racers back up to the start of the race.

First, second, and third place winners will receive ribbons. There will also be a contest between towns for a town trophy. Any town official may participate in the town versus town race. One participant will win a kayak through a random drawing.

Those who would rather watch than paddle can watch the race from the river’s banks in Linden Park or on the Maple Street Bridge. After the race, everyone can enjoy free live music, food, environmental and vendors at the finish line in Beacon Falls.

Those interested in racing can download the registration forms at www.4ctoutdoors.com under the “Naugatuck River” tab or pick them up at Connecticut Outdoors, 20 Main St., Oakville. Registration is $20 per paddler. Organizers will donate any profits to the Naugatuck River Watershed. They also hope to keep some feed money to pay for insurance, vendors and to hiring a professional race timing company next year, according to Dave Faber, one of the founders of the race.

The second year of the race, it was officially sanctioned. However, the timing for those who are serious about racing has to be exacting, and organizers felt they couldn’t keep up.

“We didn’t feel like we were doing it good enough to keep the sanctions the last two years,” Faber said.

For an official race where racers earn points, there has to be a lot more categories of racers than organizers could support.

“We think we can do so much more with this,” Faber said.

He said organizers are looking for people to donate to the event.

“The more popular the race, the more popular the river will become,” he said.

The race is sponsored by the Beacon Falls Pharmacy, Beacon Falls Merchant’s Association, Wesson Energy, Goodrich-AIS, Thule, Connecticut Outdoors, American Vintage Furniture of Naugatuck, and Mathews Realty.

Prior to the race, citizens will clean up along the river April 30. Faber said one of the biggest problems in the river is shopping carts that people dumped there.

The carts are a hazard to fishermen, boaters, and wildlife, he said.

Faber said he’s seen a huge improvement in the river over the past four years.

“There’s such a momentum now that we’re going to be pretty strong. … We’re going to protect [the river]. It’s in my best interest as a retailer, but it’s in my best interest as a resident of Waterbury. … With a little bit of help from a lot of people, we can make it happen,” Faber said.

Contact Faber at Connecticut Outdoors, LLC at 860-274-6213 for details and to be added to the list of volunteers.

Vendors interested in a spot at the firehouse can contact Bob Bradley at the Beacon Falls Pharmacy at (203) 729-4567.