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New River Conservancy Sponsors 41st Annual New River Canoe Race and Family Float

The New River Canoe Race is an annual Ashe County tradition. Photo courtesy of New River Conservancy.

By Harley Nefe

The 41st annual New River Canoe Race and Family Float will be held on Saturday, September 23, in Jefferson, come rain or shine.

This Ashe County tradition has typically been sponsored by Friends of High Country State Parks in previous years; however, this year is New River Conservancy’s first time organizing the event.

“Friends of High Country State Parks loved doing it, but it was time for them to move on, and they needed to focus on other obligations,” explained Stella Cybulski, Operations Coordinator for New River Conservancy. “They reached out to us, and they were like, ‘This is the perfect fit for you. This is a very important community event, and we want to make sure it’s still continuing.’”

The New River Conservancy team spent a lot of time talking to Friends of High Country State Parks as well as Zaloo’s Canoes to aid in the transition.

The race used to always take place the first weekend in June, and this year will be the first time it is occurring in September. 

“We are big advocates of preserving nature and getting our youth outside,” Cybulski said. “Moving it to September opened our availability to work with Ashe County Schools, Watauga County Schools, and App State – providing more of a useful energy involved in this community event.”

As planning and preparations are underway, everyone is encouraged to get involved. Whether people compete, float for fun, volunteer, or just spectate, families and friends are invited to enjoy a beautiful day on the banks of the New River.

Participants can bring their own canoe or kayak, or rent one from Zaloo’s for a discounted rate. Zaloo’s also provides a free shuttle on the day of the race.

“Zaloo’s Canoes is amazing, as they have been in the community for a long time,” Cybulski said. “They are always really big supporters of any good work on the river.”

Proceeds from the race support the restoration work at the Wagoner Access being done by the New River Conservancy. 

“We’re hoping for around 120 racers,” Cybulski said. “That’s about the average number.”

The average time for new paddlers on this five-mile stretch of river is around one hour. Many contestants with advanced skills have completed the race in less than 45 minutes.

“You can register up until the day before, and then from 9-1 p.m. you can be put on the water,” Cybulski explained. “Some people will properly race it and try to get under an hour, and some people will float more leisurely.” 

At the takeout point of the river, there will be festivities for all to enjoy. 

“I’m working on confirming a live band; we have the Boondocks food truck coming; we’re hoping to get an ice cream cart; there will be ranger-guided activities and fly-fishing demonstrations,” Cybulski described. “We are in search of more volunteers, and we are inviting other nonprofits and vendors who do good work for the outdoors to get involved.

Interested individuals are encouraged to reach out to Stella Cybulski, Operations Coordinator, at stella@newriverconservancy.org. For more information about this event, please visit newriverconservancy.org

“I’m so excited,” Cybulski shared. “This is an event that I heard about for so long, and we are so honored and glad people thought of the conservancy to take over – that we have the capacity to keep such an important tradition happening in Ashe County. It’s going to be absolutely incredible. I’m so excited to see families back out on the river continuing this amazing tradition.”