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Derby celebrates 50 years of White Water history

NORTH RIVER As the Hudson River White Water Derby celebrates 50 years as an annual rite of spring on the upper Hudson, it seems appropriate to reflect on the history of the event. The following first appeared in the North Creek News Enterprise on April 29, 1993. In the 14 years since this narrative first appeared, the Derby has continued to grow in popularity and stature and stands today as one of the premiere and most popular white water events in the Northeast. From humble beginnings The Hudson River Whitewater Derby, the nationally known canoe competition originated in North Creek in 1958 by the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club, started as a one-day eight-mile down-river race. There were 25 craft on the river representing 44 entrants. The community-wide effort was so successful that despite a deficit of $85 in the operating budget for that first race, the contest was expanded in 1959 to a two-day event, with the addition of the popular slalom runs. According to the report filed by Chuck Severance, total outlay for the inaugural race was $220. Income amounted to $135. Itemized expenses were postage, $15; trophies, $90; medals, $25; certificates, $20; numbered tags, $25,; rope and miscellaneous, $15; and badges, $30. Income from the entry fees was $69; badge sales, $60 and medal sales, $6. Winners in the four competing classes in that first run were: F-1 Robert Field, Connecticut, 1 hour, 4 minutes, 39 seconds. This was also the best overall time. F-2 Geza Boray, Ontario Voyageurs, and Harry Voege, New York City. 1:06:56. C-2M- Mr. and Mrs. Robert McNair, Buck Ridge, N.C., 1:07:11 C-2- Peter and Paul Oliver of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 1:06:23 For the 1960 White Water Derby, more than 15,000 persons lined both sides of the Hudson River from the bridge at North Creek to Riverside to witness the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club's down-river classic in which 48 entries whipped the white water. It was part of North Creek's third and most successful (at that time) Derby which saw 126 contestants participating compared with 104 in 1959. Paul Bruhin, New York City, repeated as the down-river winner. Rating the greatest applause at the wards ceremony were Bill Stetson of North Creek and Gordon Stetson of Pottersville, who won the new Golden Johnsburg trophy for local participants in the down-river race. There were 11 entries from the Town of Johnsburg. Dr. Homer Dodge, at 72, the oldest participant, was master of ceremonies, aided by Charles R. Severance, Derby chairman, and Enoch Squires of radio station WGY, Schenectady. Dr. Dodge won 3rd place in his class in the race, after finishing second the year before. Giant slalom winner was Richard Shaner, Northfield, Ohio, who also was 2nd in the down-river race. Roy Durkin, president of the sponsoring club, said the races were held not as a profit-making venture, but rather "as a promotion of better and more use of one of the least appreciated natural features of New York's Adirondack Region, the Hudson River." In 1961, Richard Shaner, again, with a best time of 54 minutes, 35 seconds, won the down-river race. Paul Bruhin of New York City, the defending champion, was second in 55 minutes, 21 seconds. A North Creek trophy for a local entry's best all-around performance was won by Ray Allard and Chip Sullivan. State Conservation Commissioner Harold G. Wilm commended the Fish and Game Club on its fine work. Bill Carpenter was master of ceremonies for the awarding of prizes at Riparius, and Charles R. Severance, general chairman of the Derby, presented the awards. Derby stature grows Increasing popularity of the event provided a banner field for the 5th annual White Water Derby in 1962. Several strong teams were entered, including the Ontario Voyageurs, and well-known paddlers from Williams College, Norwich University, Penn State, Syracuse, Paul Smith's, Wanakena, and other leading colleges and universities. Many outstanding periodicals and newspapers had staff members on hand to record the Derby in print and film, including Sports Afield, doing a special feature for its Boating Annual, and Life magazine. Ewalt Schultz, of North Creek and George Shevlin of Glens Falls won the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club trophy for the best time of local contestants in the novice slalom. There were 48 entries in the giant slalom, and 92 boats in the down-river race, for a total of 163 boars ant 260 contestants in the novice slalom. The first White Water Derby dinner was staged after the 1962 races. The Johnsburg Fish and Game Club extended an invitation to every person who played any part in any of the WhiteWater Derbies since 1958 to attend an appreciation dinner at the club's expense. Sixty-five persons attended the buffet dinner held at Ridings. Highlight was an address given by Ken Bennett,the man who spurred the Derby into life at its beginning. Fast times by canoeists in higher, rough turbulent water marked the 1963 White Water Derby, with interest attracting more contestants and spectators than in previous years. In the novice slalom, Francis Monthony of North River won the local trophy for best time of the day. Al Zob of Port Credit, Ontario, won the giant slalom in 6 minutes 49 seconds, then posted the best time of the day in winning the down-river race in 52 minutes, 32 seconds. A pleasant weekend provided the background for the 1964 Derby, as a pileup for race entries created a log jam of paper work in the Fish and Game Club office requiring a new conception of race administration. It was planned to run the novice and giant slalom races simultaneously, if the club could set up two independent courses. Entries in the down-river race were 50% above the previous year. Bob Burke and his vaudeville troupe entertained at the Saturday night get-together along with North Creek's Beatles pantomime group. The group included Cindy Reynolds, Leann Reynolds, Cathy Stewart and Jean Waterston, all Johnsburg Central students. Also Jim Waterson and Claudia Ball, plus the team of Donna French and Tommy McConnell. And the Life magazine camera crew lost two cameras in the river. A Canadian canoeist, Tom Lyle, won the down-river race in 1965 as 131 boaters challenged the wild Hudson River, which was almost a foot higher than the previous year. Lyle, from Toronto, was timed in 56 minutes, 27 seconds, with Homer Dodge, age 78, just ten seconds behind. A crowd estimated at 18,000 watched the races. There were 61` boats in the giant slalom and 34 in the novice slalom. For the first time, all contestants had to wear life preservers and all boats had floatation. Credit was given by Charles Severance, chairman, to a new communications hookup by AREC and outside personnel such as Roland Palmedo and Homer Dodge, who worked during the winter on innovations in race administration that were original and successful in concept, and the contribution of Bob and Rosalie Field of North Reading, Mass., who at their own expense came to North Creek early to overhaul the slalom events. In 1966, the White Water Derby was acclaimed as a 105% success. Tom Butler, reporting on the event, said traffic in North Creek made him think he was in a Mexican road race. He complimented Bill and Gordy Stetson for winning their division, and Tom Pierson and Ralph Coon for another first place. The highlight of the slalom races held May 4, 1974, as part of the 17th annual White Water Derby was Dr. Homer Dodge's 17 minute run in the giant slalom. There was a trace of snow that Saturday morning, winds were quite brisk and the water temperature was about 40 degrees. But Dr. Dodge completed his run flawlessly. The then 86 year old president emeritus of Norwich University, competing in this 14th consecutive derby, was paced by continuing and growing applause as he negotiated the course. At the customary slalom award ceremonies that night at Johnsburg Central School , Town Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed read a proclamation making Dr. Dodge an honorary citizen of the Town of Johnsburg for his continued support of the Derby. The Johnsburg Fish and Game Club gave Dr. Dodge a hand-caved replica of a 19th century canoe paddle in recognition of his white water accomplishments. The presentation was made by Kenneth L. Bennett. On the paddle was a gold plaque, which read: "Presented to Dr. Homer L. Dodge for participation in the annual Hudson River White Water Derby from the age 72 through 86. Presented by the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club, Inc., North Creek, NY, May 4, 1974". Dr. Dodge's famed blue canoe has been retired and is on display at the Thousand Island Museum at Clayton. Race Sponsorship Changed Sponsorship of the annual Hudson River White Water Derby changed in 1978. The races were originated in 1958 by the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club, which conducted the community event for 20 years. The current sponsoring group includes the volunteer workers on the event, and was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization under the name Hudson River White Water Derby, Inc. The Fish and Game Club retained the rights to the sale of buttons for the races, donated equipment used in the races and a sum of money to assure continuation of the event. 1972 High Water Changed Race Courses A sunny day, high water and a record Saturday crowd were the highlights of the 15th annual Hudson River White Water Derby on May 6 and 7, 1972. An estimated 15,000 spectators lined the banks of the Hudson River in the North River area to view the slalom races on Saturday. The river level was about 8 feet, more than a foot higher than ever before at race time, officials said, and the water was a chill 35 degrees. Several competitors were treated for exposure. The river was running at more than 10 feet on Friday in North Creek. There was rain earlier in the week, but on Friday the Hudson began slowly to recede. Although flood conditions had prevailed, the threat subsided. The slalom courses and the down-river race locations were changed, and the races proceeded on schedule. The novice slalom layout covered just under a mile down the Hudson from above 13th Brook to the beginning of the Gilead rapids The giant slalom, for more experienced paddlers followed nearly the same course, but participants had to complete additional gates hung though the boiling white rapids. All gages were replaced on the west shore of the river along Route. 28. The down-river race which for 14 years had started at the railroad station in North Creek and finished at the Riparius bridge on Route. 8, a distance of 7 miles, was completely relocated. The race began at North River, opposite the Warren-Hamilton county boundary, and the finish line was at the North Creek D&H station, a distance of 5 miles. The problem faced if the North Creek-Riparius course was used concerned the rescue of any paddlers who overturned or capsized. Motor boats would not have been able to buck the furious main stream current of the river, and persons in the 35 degree water would have been nearly helpless. Safety again was a major concern. Douglas Bushnell made a perfect tour through the gates to win the slalom. In the down-river, he paddled his one-man kayak down the 5 miles course in 27 minutes, 27 seconds for the victory. Thomas West of Glens falls, the 1971 winner, was second in the down-river and Robert Smith of Massena was third. John Bigelow of Schenectady was first in the one man canoe class in 31:22. Leon Wiggins of Oneonta and Monte Smith of Richfield Springs won the open canoe pairs in 28:44. Eckhart Rapin and Don Bennett of Petersborough, Ontario, won the covered canoe pairs in 28:44. The new course was nearly all visible from Route 28 or streets in North Creek, a plus for spectators who normally had to walk for miles to reach the Spruce Mountain or Staircase rapids on the regular course to view the races. K.D. Bennett and Walt Schultz were co-chairmen of the 1972 Derby. The course was nearly altered a second time in 1989 as heavy rains prior to the race brought the river level to above 7 feet at the North Creek gauge. By morning, however, the level had fallen to 6.9 feet, and the race was held as planned. 10th Annual Derby Drew National Attention Probably on of the most newsworthy renewals of the traditional White Water Derby was the 10th annual contest in 1967 which received nation-wide publicity because of several notables who attended, with some participating. Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed was chairman of the race that year, and Charles Severance was the race secretary. In attendance that year were US Senator and Mrs. Robert Kennedy, who where in the race, and their seven children; Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy; Chris Lawford, son of Peter and Pat Lawford; Stephen Smith, son of the Senator's sister; Secretary of the Interior and Mrs. Stewart L. Udall; James Whittaker, the first American to scale Mr. Everest, and Robert Harrigan, organizer of the Washington Canoe. Also attending were Mr. and Mrs. Alexander (Sam) Aldrich. Mr. Aldrich, the nephew of then Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, was executive director of the Hudson Valley Commission. The town was jumping for a week before, with highway crews manicuring the roads, sweeping, repairing and painting in preparation for the honored guests and the White Water Derby. Racers were entered from Canada, Kenya, and throughout the United States with Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Pennsylvania represented besides New York. In the 1 mile giant slalom on Saturday, Sandy Campbell of Hanover, N.H., was the overall winner in his one-man kayak. His runs were 10 minutes 20 seconds for this first trip and 10:15 for the second. Bob Weinreb of New York City won the one-mile novice slalom, also in a one-man kayak, in times of 9:28 and 8:57. Billy Stetson of North River was second. Stetson was the overall local winner in the novice slalom, with Tom Pierson of North Creek and Ralph Coon of Blue Mt. Lake second, in a 2 seater canoe. Overall local winners in the giant slalom were Peter Barton and Tom Leonard of North Creek in a 2 man canoe, with Sam Allison of North Creek and John Collins of New Paltz teaming up for second place. Awards for the slalom events were presented at Johnsburg Central School, with Bill Carpenter acting as master of ceremonies. Senator Kennedy, Secretary Udall and Mrs. Aldrich gave brief talks at the ceremony. Giant slalom class winners included: K-2 Pat and Dick Cunningham, North Creek, and C2M Sam Hoopes of Glens Falls and John Pratt of Bolton Landing. Three Canadian entries won top honors in the 7 mile down-river race on Sunday as about 9,000 people watched the finish at Riparius. Mr. Kennedy and her partner, Jim Whittaker, made the run after several dunkings. Senator Kennedy and William Bickham of College Park, PA., finished third in the CC-2 division in 1:11:29. The overall winner, in a one-man kayak, was Emil Mashek of Toronto, Ontario, in a 1 hour 3 minutes and 15 seconds. He beat Manfred Bauer of Cooksville, Ontario, by 12 seconds. Dr. Homer Dodge of Burlington, Vt., won the C-1 Mature division. Three Days For The Centennial Last year, in observance of the centennial of the Adirondack Park, the White Water Derby was expanded to three days of racing, with an additional race, the Centennial Challenge, taking place between North River and North Creek on Friday, May 1. Results and entries for the race were tabulated and calculated by computer. The race was created to underscore the important role that the Hudson River has played locally, most notably for the log drives, moving pulp wood from the North Country up as far as Newcomb, down to the mills in Glens Falls. The last river drive took place in 1953. The White Water Derby was noted by the state's Centennial committee as being unique and historic.

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