Long-distance canoe race on Bayou Teche?
By Ken Grissom
BREAUX BRIDGE – Tourism professionals from four parishes met here this week to discuss the possibility of staging a canoe and kayak race on Bayou Teche from its headwaters at Port Barre to where it empties into the Atchafalaya River at Berwick.
At 124 miles, a Bayou Teche paddle race would be only the third “super marathon” in the United States and one of only a half a dozen in the world.
The two other U.S, races are the Texas Water Safari, which drew over 300 participants from 14 states and two foreign countries last year, and the AuSable River Canoe Marathon in Michigan, which had 156 racers from 11 states and four Canadian provinces.
St. Martin tourism director Dona Richard hosted a meeting with her counterparts in the other Teche Country parishes, Celeste Gomez from St. Landry, Fran Thibodeaux from Iberia and Carrie Stansberry from St. Mary.
Also attending was Breaux Bridge businessman Ray Pellerin, who has helped organized canoe races in the past through the local Kiwanis Club – and who has traveled the entire length of the Teche in his own boats.
The next step for the group will be a cruise down the entire length of the bayou in motorized craft to reconnoiter any obstacles that will have to be overcome. Pellerin said at places above Arnaudville, there used to be low-hanging electrical lines and water pipes that could pose a danger.
The biggest obstacle, however, is expected to be the debris gathering under the bridges and littering the banks.
Jacques Privat, executive director of Keep St. Martin Beautiful, has already volunteered to mount a cleanup effort in advance of the race date, which has yet to be set. And in Arnaudville, citizens working through the Chamber of Commerce are forming their own anti-litter organization, with a committee to deal specifically with the bayous.
The tourism directors also talked about going to watch the Texas Water Safari, which is held in June. More than twice as long as the Teche, the Safari has nonetheless been able to attract a lot of “ordinary” paddlers in everyday family canoes as well as the toned athletes in their slim racing craft.
The Michigan race, comparable in length to the Teche, is only for two-person C2s, a type of canoe hewing to United States Canoe Association specifications.
As envisioned so far, a Bayou Teche race would have USCA racing divisions, but to broaden the attraction it would also have divisions for aluminum canoes, standard cruisers, kayaks and pirogues.
The race would probably be “won” in less than 24 hours, but any paddlers finishing it in a long weekend, under say a 52-hour deadline, would certainly come away with bragging rights.
There could also be timed legs so paddlers could camp out and enjoy themselves instead of paddling all night like the more serious racers.
Richard and the others said they are excited about the prospect of attracting more visitors to the Teche Country, and at the same time making local people aware of what a valuable resource the bayou can be.