White Water Derby organizers expect larger crowd this year

— With Mother Nature blessing the Hudson River with much-needed rain this week, organizers of the 55th Annual White Water Derby on May 5-6 are expecting a larger crowd than last year.

Actually, the problem in 2011 was an abundance of rain and historic water levels reaching 13 feet at the USGS water gauge in North Creek. And that scared a lot of people away, according to Derby organizer Katie Nightingale, who spoke to the News Enterprise Friday, April 20 when the water level was at 3.5 feet. The average spring level is about 5 feet.

Before the rain this week, many Hudson River watchers were concerned about the dry conditions earlier this spring, and they worried about how the lower-than-average water levels would affect the rafting season and the White Water Derby. But Nightingale said the event has never had a problem with the water level, and she was confident that there was plenty of time for the water levels to rise.

“A lot can happen between now and then,” she said.

It sure did. Once the rain started falling on Saturday, April 21, the Hudson River started rising. By Tuesday, April 24, it peaked at 5.5 feet and dipped slightly on April 25.

Nightingale said she expects about 150 racers this year. In 2011, there were fewer than 120, as many people stayed away because of the record-high water.

While the impact of racers on the local economy is important, so is the impact of the spectators. And the White Water Derby is a visually appealing event.

“It’s not just racing,” Nightingale said. “It’s fun to watch.”

For spectators, there are plenty of places to watch the river action. The Novice and Giant Slalom course can be seen along Route 28 toward North River on Saturday, May 5, starting at 11 a.m. The Chuck Severance Race running immediately after. And many people will converge on Riparius for the finish of the Downriver Race on Sunday, May 6. The Downriver Race starts at 11 a.m. in North Creek. Bathrooms at the Riverside train station will be open to the public, and there will be food vendors at the finish line.

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