‘Brattle Paddle’ aims to pull a crowd Sunday

BRATTLEBORO — Is a community famous for ski jumping and heifer strolling ready to dive into a “Brattle Paddle”?

The New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association, set to bring its touring competition to town Sunday, July 23, hopes so.

Organizers expect some 70 racers and dozens of recreational boaters to speed along the Connecticut and West rivers in an event aiming to pull enough of a crowd to become an annual tradition.

“Here in Brattleboro we have this huge resource that is often overlooked,” participant and planner Sandy Harris says of the waterway. “A lot of us who train here thought, 'Wouldn't this be a great place to race?'”

Anyone with a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard can register Sunday to begin a 9-mile race at 10 a.m. at the West River Marina, travel south on the Connecticut River to the old railroad bridge near Route 119, then backtrack north to the Route 9 bridge and return to the West River and the new Interstate 91 bridge before finishing back at the start.

People seeking a shorter loop can try a 3.5-mile recreational route from the Marina to the Route 119 bridge and back.

Harris - daughter of Fred Harris, founder of the Brattleboro Outing Club and local namesake ski jump - grew up more grounded in the land than the water.

“I drove over these bridges my whole life and never thought about the river as a place to spend hours of enjoyment,” she says.

That changed four years ago when Harris joined paddlers, both individual and paired, in New England association competitions.

“It's not only steering but also reading the river, getting in the right current, catching and riding a wave,” she says. “I found in it this glorious sport where there's competition and camaraderie.”

And eye-catching views.

“You don't have to race - you can just grab a canoe and go out with friends,” she says. “You can hear all of the birds and wildlife, see a beaver or nesting eagle.”

The Brattle Paddle is one of only two such races in Vermont, with the second being the annual Connecticut River Paddle Battle each fall in Bellows Falls.

Brattleboro participants can register Sunday from 8 to 9:30 a.m. for $20, which includes an event T-shirt and light lunch.

Spectators are encouraged to watch not only at the Marina but also on the bridges and shorelines along the route.

“It's something very few people have seen around here,” Harris says of the race. “It's extremely exciting. I want to see people come out and realize the river is such a great recreational resource.”

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