Brattle Paddle pulls a crowd

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BRATTLEBORO — Forget the rain before and after. As seen through the sun that shone on a record 80 participants, this weekend's "Brattle Paddle" had pull.

"It's a very good turnout, given the weather prediction," organizer Sandy Harris said of the annual competition sponsored by the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association.

The volunteer-run organization, marking its 40th year of founding in 1979, has transformed what leaders describe as a once "rather disorganized" sport into a regional force orchestrating spring, summer and fall events in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Harris, for her part, has established a new local tradition in a community known for winter ski jumping (her late father, Fred, created New England's sole Olympic-caliber ski jump in town nearly a century ago) and the spring Strolling of the Heifers parade.

"It's starting to be known," Harris said of an event that began in 2017 with 50 participants. "We're building up the recreational aspect. Most people see the word `race' and say, `I can't.' We're trying to make it more of an adventure, as well as an enjoyable leisure type of thing."

Racers and recreational boaters in canoes and kayaks and on stand-up paddleboards made their way Sunday from the West River Marina to the Connecticut River, where they traveled south to the old railroad bridge near Route 119, then backtracked north to the Route 9 bridge and returned to the start and the new Interstate 91 bridge before finishing the 9-mile course.

Harris is helping organize the 2019 New England Marathon Paddle Sport Championships, set to take place a half-hour north on the river in Bellows Falls on Aug. 4, with more information available on the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association website www.neckra.org.

"It's extremely exciting, yet something very few people have seen around here," Harris says of the sport. "I want them to come out and realize the river is such a great recreational resource."

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