Coon Creek Canoe races return after 25 years
On what turned out to be a picture-perfect summer day, Coon Valley, Wisconsin held the 2019 Coon Creek Canoe races last Saturday, the likes of which the town has not seen in years, twenty-five to be exact.
Almost a year to date, floods ravaged and did unsurmountable damage to Coon Valley, Chaseburg, and many other communities in the Driftless area. The aftermath laid hard times for many, but those hard times became the catalyst for Chaseburg and Coon Valley to band together and do something to help each other.
The canoe race was put on as a fundraiser to help the communities try and recover from all of the flooding.
“We are going to see what we can do to help,” said Coon Creek Canoe Race committee chairman Bruce King who lives between Coon Valley and Westby. “It’s our first time having this after not having it for many, many years and we will see how it goes. I’ve talked to folks coming out of the water and they just loved it.”
Just short of 4-miles and ending at the Coon Valley Veterans Memorial Park, racers faced a lot of twists and turns, shallow spots and a few Class I rapids.
Father/daughter canoe team Frank and Danya Dravis from Stoddard, Wisconsin, were among the 200 teams that registered for the race. “I think it’s a great idea! We live just down the road and I commute through here and I saw when it got flooded out twice,” Frank said.
When asked about the experience he offered, “It was definitely gorgeous and beautiful. We’ve paddled a lot of the rivers around here. There were a couple drops that made life interesting.”
Danya added, “I like how it went from nice and lazy to some ripples which made it fun. You can’t snooze if you are in the competitive class.”
Frank stated that next year, he and Danya would attempt to beat their 50:13 time.
“It’s a gorgeous time of year and I’m glad they brought it back. With the emphasis on the climate here in the Driftless area, this is what we are about, this is what we should do,” Frank said smiling.
The race committee, along with many volunteers, spent hours clearing debris making the course safe. “We’ve taken all of the trees out so it’s all clear water. Our race committee has been down this dozens of times getting ready for this, figuring out where they want to put signage, deciding if we need spotters if there are dangerous spots. We’ve put a lot of work into it. Our first meetings were way back at the beginning of the year,” King said.
Members of the race committee helped put the canoes in the water and launch racers. King explained, “The minute that you hit the banner that says start, that’s when your time starts. You hit the finish banner at the other end, that’s when your time ends.”
King noted that they spent a lot of time getting the launch site prepared and acknowledged the land owner Gary, also a member of the committee, for his preparing his land, for putting in sand and grading it, making an easy approach to the creek.
“We’ve got beverages for our canoers that they can take with on the canoe trip. We have water and pop for the helpers as well,” King mentioned.
Billed as a community event, many of the race committee are part of the Chaseburg Snowtrailers.
The event seemed to breathe a new life for many in Coon Valley, Chaseburg and their surrounding communities. It showcases how people in the Driftless truly care for one another, especially after floods saw most affected in some way and many lose everything.
With early registration fees of $30 per team and a day of registration $40, the funds along with food and beverage sales, will help bring relief to the area and make improvements to the walking path to and along the Veterans Park. Funds will help to mitigate flood management as well.
King stressed, “The committee that put this together worked tirelessly. They sought out and received grants. Everybody coming in said ‘This sounds like the right thing; I’ve never seen a committee built like this.’ I hope this is more of a smashing success than we could have ever imagined. If it’s any success at all, you will see us again next year doing the same thing, putting this money right back into the community. You don’t have to go far to see the streams suffering. People who live here will tell you that these streams didn’t go this way before the flooding.”
The Coon Valley Business Association also played a pivotal role in planning and supporting these weekends fundraising event. The Association’s President, Geoff Lenser, stated that their business partners all chipped in and showed full support. “It is great to see everyone coming together to help the area get back on its feet,” he said. Lenser praised many area organizations like Coon Valley Conservation Club, the Village of Coon Valley, Chaseburg Community Snowtrailers, Coulee Track and Trail, Coon Valley American Legion, Coon Valley Lions Club, Coon Valley Fire Department, Coon Valley Police Department, Vernon County Sheriff’s Department, and other law enforcement that helped everything run smooth.
With an array of kid friendly activities, food, and a beer tent that featured Pearl Street Brewing Company, Hillsboro Brewing Company, 608 Brewing Company, Skeleton Crew Brew, Turtle Stack Brewery, and Turismo Fermentations, the event kept true to a Wisconsin style celebration.
The beer tent also hosted the bands Dan Sebranek and the Coon Creek Band (formed just for this event), Ontourage and Afterparty.
Later in the evening, the Coon Valley American Legion hosted an after party where the awards for the race were presented.
I would be remiss if not to mention the many fundraising events that have been held all over the Driftless area. Events that saw community and outsiders alike coming together in support, finding the silver lining in the dark storm clouds that devastated and wreaked economic disaster in many communities.
This is the essence of the phrase, ‘help one another’
For more on this event visit the Coon Valley Canoe Races Facebook page.