At its peak, 300 people in canoes and kayaks have participated in the Naugatuck Valley River Race from the Platts Mill boat launch in Waterbury to downtown Beacon Falls.
This year, only 70 have signed up as of earlier this week for Saturday’s race, said Dave Faber, owner of Connecticut Outdoors in Oakville and founder of the Naugatuck Valley Outdoors Club. That could all change if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers answers organizers’ pleas to release more water from the Black Rock and Hop Brook dams.
“We’re not looking for rapids,” Faber said. “We’re looking for just a flow to make it what it normally is this time of year.”
Ideal race conditions call for between 700 and 900 cubic feet of water per second, as read by the gauge on the Beacon Falls bridge, Faber said. As of Tuesday, the river was flowing at about 500 cubic feet per second, Faber said.
“We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best, and either way it’s a great time,” Faber said.
Proceeds from the race will benefit the Naugatuck River Watershed Association, the Waterbury Police Activity League, the Naugatuck Fire Department and Beacon Hose Company No. 1.
The race ends at the Depot Street bridge in Beacon Falls, where a festival awaits. The winner gets “the admiration and adulation of the masses, and a medal,” said Bob Bradley, race co-chairman.
The celebration in Volunteer Park and the Beacon Falls Pharmacy parking lot includes a silent auction for the Lioness Club and float plane rides on Toby’s Pond, Bradley said.
The famed Beacon Falls duck race will begin at 3:30 p.m. Bradley said the Lions Club, which organizes the race, hopes to sell 1,500 ducks, which will be launched this year from a new mechanism that Bradley and his friend Bill Mis designed and built themselves.
In years past, the ducks were released from a cage that was supposed to sit on the riverbed but had difficulty staying in place, Bradley said. This year, they will fall from a 10-foot contraption anchored to the riverbed, consisting of a wooden box atop a metal tripod, Bradley said.
The top prize for the duck race is $1,000. It is a major fundraiser for the Lions Club, which puts the money toward scholarships. Last year, the club gave away $9,000 to college-bound high school graduates, Bradley said.
Secondary to raising money, the purpose of Saturday’s event is to promote the river’s resurgence after decades of industrial contamination.
“My personal goal is just to provide more exposure to the river as the natural resource it is,” Bradley said. “As a kid, your mother didn’t have to tell you not to play in the river. You knew not to go anywhere near that stinking cesspool.”