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White Water Derby poised to celebrate 50th anniversary

NORTH CREEK This countrys oldest continuous white water event, the Hudson River White Water Derby is celebrating 50 years. Over the years thousands of people have gathered every year on the banks of the beautiful Hudson River to watch entrants for two exciting days ply the rapids of the Upper Hudson where, in the spring of years past, loggers opened sluices of stacked timbers to deliver the winter harvest to the saw mill sorting booms in Glens Falls. Events of the past 50 years can be observed by everyone at an opening program and reception and the exhibit for the entire month of May, 2007. Photographs and memorabilia presented by the Johnsburg Historical Society, will be free to the public, at North Creeks Tannery Pond Community Center on Main Street. It all began as technology and transportation improved in the United States and the Hudson River became less efficient as a viable method of transporting lumber. The sounds of scraping of tumbling logs and shouting are gone, and the working waters gave way to more and more recreational play. With the change of function on the river came the advent of the nationally known canoe competition. In short, this is a race against time over a specified course of rough water by qualified competitors in canoes and small boats. Historically, this is a throwback to the exploits of the French voyageurs who plied their fur-laden canoes over foaming waters of the Canadian frontiers centuries ago. These exploits stirred the adventurous spirit of many a soul, some of whom banded together in organizations dedicated to the preservation of the ancient art of piloting frail canoes and small craft through treacherous waters. The closest counterpart of such organizations is the small clique of boatsmen on the old river drives. These groups have swelled their ranks until they are now found all over the country. Roland Palmedo initiated white water races in the 1950s. An Internationally known skier, resort owner and a pioneer of U.S. white water competition became impressed with the possibilities of the Hudson River for water racing. He first discussed the idea with Kenneth Bennett, who subsequently brought it to the attention of several local organizations, the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club decided to accept the challenge and organized an event for which there were no Adirondack precedents. There was no local history of canoeing, and at the time only a few people had ever seen a kayak. The Upper Hudson White Water Derby, evolved from the nationally known canoe competition originated in North Creek in 1958 and was presented by the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club. It started as a one-day eight mile downriver race with 25 craft on the river representing 44 entrants. The first race committee members appointed were K.L. Bennett as Chairman, C.R. Severance as Secretary and Treasurer, and assisting members: George Hall, Roy Durkin, William Sullivan and Warren Ratcliff. The first announcement of the Upper Hudson White Water Derby was published in the March 19, 1958 issue of the North Creek News Enterprise. At the time it was predicted that from the reception the Derby received in boating circles it stood a very good chance of being a successful enterprise. In 1959, the event was expanded to two days and added the ever popular slalom runs. In 1960 more than 15,000 people lined both sides of the Hudson River from the bridge in North Creek to the railroad station at Riverside. It was North Creeks third and most successful Derby in which the number of contestants participating grew to 126. The new Golden Johnsburg trophy award that year was won by Bill Stetson representing local participants from Pottersville. Increasing popularity of the event provided a banner field for the 5th annual White Water Derby in 1962. Many periodicals and newspapers covered the event and recorded the Derby in print and film, including Sports Afield as a special feature for its Boating Annual and Life Magazine. In 1965, the river was almost a foot higher than the previous year. 131 boaters challenged the wild Hudson and about 18,000 watched as Canadian Tom Lyle won the downriver race. It was the first year that all contestants had to wear life preservers and all boats had to have floatation. Probably one of the most noteworthy events in the history of the Derby was in 1967 when Robert and Ethel Kennedy participated along with an entourage that included Caroline Kennedy and then Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall. Again in 1972, the 15th Annual event, a crowd estimated at 15,000 watched the slalom races this time with the river about 8 feet, more than a foot higher than ever before race time. The water was a chill 35 degrees, and on Friday night the river was running at more than 10 feet. Dr. Homer Dodge at the age of 72 was the highlight of the 1974 Derby with a 17 minute run in the giant slalom. It took place with a trace of snow, winds quite brisk and the water temperature was 40 degrees. His famed blue canoe has been retired and is on display at the Thousand Island Museum at Clayton. In 1978 the Johnsburg Fish and Game Club dropped its sponsorship of the Derby but donated equipment and a sum of money, to assure the continuation of the event. The life of the Derby continues in the hands of dedicated volunteers and members of the operating staff dedicating their time and talent. Chairmen and staffs of the White Water Derby committee, passed from the Johnsburg Fish & Game Club to the long term leadership of Jim Shaw, of Jasco Minerals to Tom Henecker and Katy ODell, former owner/editors of the North Creek News Enterprise to the present chairman Peter Burns, proprietor of Beaverbrook Outfitters. History Data: courtesy of Lyle Dye, President and Sue Rawson, Archivist of the Johnsburg Historical Society providing individual work on historical data written by George & Jerry Gardner, former owners of the North Creek News Enterprise, Bud Dreon, teaching staff of the Johnsburg Central School, White Water Derby supplement in the 1958 by owners and editors of the North Creek News Enterprise and excerpts from the May 4, 1972 White Water Derby Souvenir Program. 2007 50th anniversary race program schedule in North Creek (at the foot of Gore Mountain Ski Area) Saturday Afternoon April 28th 4:30 p.m. The traditional pre Derby Chuck Severance Race, A memorial to Chuck Severance former Forest Ranger and devoted participant and supporter of the White Water Derby North River to North Creek. Friday May 4th 5 to 7 p.m. A gala opening of the Upper Hudson photography exhibit in the Widlund Galler at Tannery Pond Community Center, North Creek, featuring speakers with a long association with the Derby,a historic film of the last 50 years, and reception mounted by the Town of Johnsburg Historical Society. Entire month of May Major month-long photo exhibit by the Johnsburg Historical Society in the Widlund Gallery at Tannery Pond Community Center, North Creek with pictures and memorabilia of the Upper Hudson White Water Derby covering the last 50 years. Open to the public Tuesday Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., free of charge when the flag is out. Saturday May 5th 11 a.m. Novice & Giant Slalom Class races & the downriver Sprint followed by an Awards Party at The Tannery Pond Community Center, from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday May 6th Downriver race, North Creek to Riparius and Race presentation of awards. For more information and/ or times to register, Call 251-2612 or visit our web site at www.whitewaterderby.com

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