Avoyelles Police Jury okays welcome center for first Red River kayak race

By RAYMOND L. DAYE

    When paddlers pass by Ben Routh  Recreation Area  in late September, they will receive best wishes for a safe trip from the bank of the Red River in Avoyelles.
    The first annual “410 Louisiane” and “Tour de la Riviere Rouge” kayak/canoe races will begin in Bossier City Sept. 26. The Avoyelles Police Jury approved joining with the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism to have a welcome/refreshment center at Ben Routh during the race dates.
   Police Jury President Charles Jones said canoe and kayak racing is becoming very popular in other areas of the parish, and Avoyelles wants to encourage the development of the sport in the state.
   A tent with refreshments, and possibly a “bon chance” banner will be placed at the Ben Routh park.
“Exact time and date will be announced at the September meeting,” Jones said. He said he would hope some people would come out to wave to the racers as they pass by.
   Ray Pellerin, an organizer of the event, told the Journal that paddlers may decide not to stop. However, each boat has a ground crew -- called a coureur de bois, or “bank runner” -- that follows them from the river bank that will probably appreciate the refreshments.
“We announced the race late, in March, and many of those that would have participated had already made other plans,” Pellerin said.
He is expecting about 20 racers this year, but considerably more in future years.
    “They just had the Missouri 340, from Kansas City to St. Louis, and had to cut off registration at 400 boats,” Pellerin said. 
    A paddler that won his class with a team in the Missouri race told Pellerin he will probably race as a solo paddler in the Louisiane next year because he couldn’t coordinate his teammates' schedules to put together a team for this year’s race.
     “This type of race is not like a horse race,” Pellerin said. “There won’t be a group of boats coming through all at once.”
He said there may be an hour or more distance between boats.
     “Of course, when there are more boats you will have more action,” he added.
    There are actually three races going on in this event. They will become the “Triple Crown” of Louisiana kayak/canoe racing.
    The Triple Crown will be awarded every three years. Racers’ best time in each of the three races over that three-year period will be used in determining the champion in each class of boat.
    The Tour  de la Riviere Rouge is a 275-mile “adventure race” from Shreveport/Bossier City to Port Barre, designed to challenge even the experienced long-distance racers. It must be completed within 100 hours to be counted as a successful finish, Pellerin said.
    The more-established Tour du Teche begins the day after Riviere Rouge ends. It begins at Bayou Courtableau in Port Barre, goes down Bayou Teche and ends in Berwick Oct. 4. The 135-mile race is done in three stages over three days.
    Combining the two races results in the 410  de Louisiana, which organizers hope will some day in the near future rank among the elite long-distance canoe/kayak races in the nation.
    Because the 410-mile course combines the wild-and-woolly aspect of an adventure race with a technical staged race that favors true athletes, Pellerin said veteran paddlers have called it one of the toughest races in the nation. 
    Those in this area may see the paddlers passing by at John H. Overton Lock & Dam #2 near the parish line; at the La. Hwy 115 bridge; at Lindy Boggs Lock & Dam #1; where the Red River meets the Atchafalaya; and at the Simmesport Bridge.

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