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Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival – 2012

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May 19th and 20th marked the 29th annual Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival. This always proves to be a great event each year. Check out the article and video below for a nice recap.

Building whitewater community takes as much muscle as paddling Upper Clackamas River

By Molly Harbarger, The Oregonian

The announcer was barely audible over the roar of the whitewater, rushing almost 3,000 cubic feet per second down the Upper Clackamas River on Saturday. Spectators dotted the rocky shore, watching bobbing specks of color come closer until the dry-suited paddlers appeared.

The crowd cheered each racer as they passed in the annual Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival, the largest whitewater competition in the Northwest, drawing about 120 participants each year from California to Canada.

The 29-year-old “Clack-fest” is also one of the oldest competitions of its kind and the centerpiece event for a growing whitewater racing community.

a group of people riding skis on a body of water

Tim Brink of Sandy founded the Oregon Rafting Team about seven years ago. Because they were national competitors, they didn’t get to compete much on their home turf.

“We needed races to participate in around here,” Brink said.

So, they started the West Whitewater Championship Series four years ago. It consists of seven races in northern California, Washington and Oregon.

“Since we started doing that, we’ve seen a lot more events pop up,” Brink said.

Whitewater competitions are not easy to organize, particularly because they are done almost entirely by volunteers. There is permitting, coordinating with the Forest Service and police, securing camping and room for vendors.

It consumes much of the year for Clack-fest organizer Bob Mosier. He raced the event for almost 20 years, but the last 10 he has spent with a walkie-talkie, making sure it runs smoothly.

He still finds time, usually before the competition begins, to paddle the river a couple times. It’s runnable until July, and unusually clear.

“It’s wonderful green water and it’s hard to find a place as beautiful this time of year,” Mosier said, watching catarafts navigate past.

The scenery, provided by the lush forests at the base of Mount Hood, also makes the festival alluring. The city of Estacada benefits, too.

The five campgrounds within a half-mile stretch of Highway 224 near Carter Bridge Recreation Area are reserved by January. Paddlers have to show up by Wednesday before the event to get a spot.

“Usually the campgrounds would be empty right now,” Mosier said. “So that’s one of the benefits to the community.”

Estacada Area Chamber of Commerce member Connie Redmond said they haven’t put a dollar amount on it, but the festival definitely helps the city. Campers eat in town and stock up on supplies, like wood for the hand-built 40-foot, 40-degree “big air” ramp.

“It’s fantastic for the city,” Redmond said. “It’s just giving people the exposure to Estacada.”

All this behind-the-scenes action is helping to grow the whitewater community in the Northwest. The 15-member Oregon Rafting Team takes the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival seriously. Founder Brink credits the the competition for attracting more athletes to the sport, in addition to the typical adventure junkies.

He was a semi-pro rugby player who blew out his knee. Then he took up rafting.

“You can sit down and paddle a raft really hard and get the same amount of testosterone out of it sometimes,” Brink said.

And 27-year-old Lila Owen from Eugene appreciates that the class 3 to 4 rapids makes the event friendlier than many, which are in the 4 to 5 range.

A former raft guide, Owen paddles as one of the few females competing in hard-shell kayaking. That means she usually places in the top three. But she is admittedly not there to win, and doesn’t describe herself as “into” racing.

“I like to come out and hang out with my friends,” Owen said. “And they make me register (to race), is what happens.”

Aire, makers of the Tomcat inflatable kayak among other designs, sponsored several events at the festival. Check out the recap video below to see kayakers in action:

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