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Whitewater championships return March 17-19

Final preparations are underway for the annual Missouri Whitewater Championships set for March 17-19 on the St. Francis River at the Millstream Gardens Conservation Area between the cities of Ironton and Fredericktown.

“This year’s Missouri Whitewater Championships (MWC) will be our 50th annual race celebration with extra events added to the race schedule and weekend festivities,” said Rich Gran of the Missouri Whitewater Association. “The championships continue a tradition begun in 1968, when the first Saint Francis River Whitewater Slalom Race was held on the Silver Mines section of the river, downstream from the current location.

The championships were moved to Millstream Gardens in 1988 after the section became a conservation area at the request of the former owner, Elmer Tiemann. The primary whitewater feature of the Silver Mines section is the breach in the old Silver Mines dam. The current location includes the largest whitewater drop on the river, known as the “Big Drop.”

Depending on rainfall, the river is considered Class II-III whitewater. At higher water levels racing is very limited.

According to Gran, the Meramec River Canoe Club (MRCC) originally hosted the first whitewater race held on the Saint Francis River in March 1968, with help from the Fredericktown Chamber of Commerce and the Fredericktown Jaycees. In 1976, the Arnold Whitewater Association (AWA) and the Sierra Club took over the host role. In 1984, AWA became the Missouri Whitewater Association to acknowledge its statewide presence.

Today, the event utilizes the help of 100 volunteers who set up the race course, provide safety, judge, time and score the racers. The MWA receives support from the Sierra Club Eastern Missouri Group, Saint Louis Canoe and Kayak Club and Team River Runner. The races are held with the support of the Missouri Department of Conservation, and sanctioned by the American Canoe Association.

The 2017 event will feature traditional downriver and whitewater slalom racing for canoes and kayaks, along with several innovations like Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) and Boatercross racing.

“The race is divided into multiple categories based on paddlers’ skill, boat type, and age,” he said. “Recent races at the Millstream Gardens shut-ins have attracted competitors from 10 states and hundreds of spectators.

Competitors range from beginners to seasoned veterans to the occasional Olympic level expert, and range in age from preteens to seniors in their 70s.

“Boaters travel from around the country and from as far away as Japan to compete. Olympic-class paddlers have used this race as training preparation for future Olympic Games. In 1972, the championships were a qualifier to the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials. In 1994, the event was a qualifier to the 1994 Olympic Festival. In 1999, the race was a qualifying event for the U.S. National Team. In 2000 the race again served as a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Trials.”

A nominal race registration fee — as well as banquet ticket, race ticket and T-shirt sales — help support the incidentals required to put on the event.

“For the 50th anniversary championships, we will have a commemorative program highlighting our 50 years of whitewater racing on the Saint Francis. It will include historical information, race results, and photos, and advertising space for our sponsors and supporters.”

More information about the history of the Missouri Whitewater Championships, including a video documentary of the race, can be found at the MWA website, missouriwhitewater.org.

For more information on the 50TH Annual Missouri Whitewater Championships, contact Race Director Dave Kovar at racedirector@missouriwhitewater.org.

The MWA is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, and exists to encourage the growth of paddling, teach river safety and educate the general public about the sport and river conservation.

“This year’s Missouri Whitewater Championships will be our 50th annual race celebration with extra events added to the race schedule and weekend festivities.”

The annual Missouri Whitewater Championships returns for its 50th year March 17-19 on the St. Francis River at the Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. The event is a popular one with crowds from throughout the region coming out each year to watch the races.

The annual Missouri Whitewater Championships returns for its 50th year March 17-19 on the St. Francis River at the Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. The event is a popular one with crowds from throughout the region coming out each year to watch the races.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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