Athol River Rat Race nearly ready

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 03-10-2023 5:28 PM

ATHOL – Last year marked the return of the annual River Rat Race after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizers are hoping even more canoes will enter the competition.

The first River Rat took place in 1964, with a total of 12 canoes taking part. The winning canoe, manned that year by Art Forand and Sonny Soucie, was made of canvas and is now on display at the Orange Historical Society. Every year an award named for Forand and Soucie is given to the team that passes the most canoes.

In a February 2020 interview, late longtime race organizer Dave Flint said, “Next to winning, that’s the most prestigious award there is.”

Jeanette McIntosh, who was named chair of the River Rate Race Committee following Flint’s passing in December 2021, told the Athol Daily News it’s volunteers make the race possible.

“We have approximately 100 (volunteers),” she said. “When you add in the fire departments and you add in all of the folks who work with the Lions, in addition to Lions members and other community members who give us a hand on those two days.”

The Athol Lions Club took over race planning and promotion from the original River Rat Race Committee in 1991. While the race itself takes less than an hour, there are many weeks of planning.

The cost to enter the rest is $42 per team. As has been the case since 2019, Else Where, located at 1485 Main St. in Athol, is race headquarters. Registration forms may be obtained and dropped off there, or teams may register online at www.riverratrace.com/register. The deadline for registration is April 6.

McIntosh said about 230 teams competed in the race last year.

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“It was a little low,” she said. “But we are hoping that we get a lot more this year.”

A favorite event, which takes place the night before the race, is the drawing of starting positions for all of the canoes in the competition. The last canoe drawn on Friday night will receive half of the amount of canoes in cash. In other words, if there are 250 canoes, they’ll get $125. Applications will be taken on Friday and Saturday morning, but those won’t be eligible for drawing. The drawing will take place at 7 p.m. on April 7 at Athol Town Hall.

Events taking place Saturday morning prior to the River Rat Race include the Athol Area YMCA Big Cheese 5K road race. Runners step off from the starting line on School Street at 9:30 a.m. They will traverse parts of Main and Exchange streets, take a lap around Silver Lake, jog down Crescent Street, then proceed down Main Street and cross the finish line in front of Town Hall. Once all the runners are underway, the River Rat Promenade will proceed down Main Street under the supervision of the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce.

Teams will start putting canoes in the Millers River at 12:30 p.m. and the starting cannon will be fired at 1 p.m.

“Everything is approximate,” said McIntosh. “It can be held up if there’s a problem downstream with any of the safety measures. Last year we almost had to hold the start of the race because a big tree broke loose and blocked the Daniel Shays Bridge from anyone being able to go under.”

Also taking place during River Rat Weekend is a spaghetti supper the day before the race at the Athol American Legion—a fundraiser sponsored by the Athol-Orange Chuck Stone Little League. The supper begins at 4:30 p.m., Friday, April 7. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under, children under 3 eat free.

The North Quabbin Lodge of Masons is sponsoring a pancake breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. the morning of the race. The breakfast will take place at the Masonic Lodge, 336 Main Street, Athol.

And, on Saturday afternoon, the North Quabbin Community Coalition will, in conjunction with Billy Goat Boats, be sponsoring a sober family block party. Last year’s event took place at Fish Park in Athol; this year organizers are hoping to party at a location in Orange. The Athol Daily News will provide more details when they are finalized.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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