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Reviving the Hanmer Guideboat Races

September 19, 2011
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The organizers of the Willard Hanmer Guideboat Races are looking to revive the event in time for next summer's 50th anniversary.

"I can remember way back in the 1970s, there were hundreds of people there," said Joe Spadaro, who was one of six Hanmer committee members who met at the North Elba Town House last Wednesday for a Hanmer brainstorming session. This was the second meeting of the committee.

Spadaro, who was involved with running the race in the 1970s, said he would like to reach out to area paddling clubs to encourage them to participate. Last year there were only 19 racers in the event.

Article Photos

From left, Chris Covert, Sharon Elrod, Kelly Morgan, Liz Murray and Chris Woodward are part of a committee formed to revive the Willard Hanmer Guideboat Races in time for next year’s 50th anniversary of the event. Not pictured are Joe Spadaro and Lorraine Kelley.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

Joining Spadaro at the meeting were Kelly Morgan, Sharon Elrod, Liz Murray, Chris Covert and Chris Woodward. Covert and Woodward have run the event in recent years.

One big change the group is leaning toward is returning the races to the Saranac River. In recent years, the event has taken place just on Lake Flower, in part because it's much easier to run a race that has the same start and finish line.

Next summer, however, the group wants to start the race on Lake Flower and run it down the Saranac River to the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club, where there would be family-style festivities, like in the race's old days.

"We want people to stick around and make it a family day down there," Spadaro said.

Running the race down the river has several benefits. It would make the course more interesting for rowers and paddlers, and make it more spectator friendly. People would be able to watch the racers from bridges, parks and the River Walk throughout the village.

Another big focus of the group right now is reaching out to former participants of past Hanmer races. The group wants them to participate in the event, whether they race or not. There will be opportunities to do things such as showcase their guideboats in a boat parade.

In general, Woodward said he wants to see more guideboat participation. The group discussed how to make guideboat races the feature attraction while still having canoe and kayak events.

"I don't want to have a canoe race with guideboats," Woodward said. "I want to have a guideboat race with canoes. ... Because it's the 50th anniversary, we want to get 50 guideboats."

The group is still working out the specific details of the race, such as how to organize the canoe and kayak classes. Some members of the group said they want to keep the race relatively noncompetitive while others said they want it to be inclusive of more serious canoe racers.

There was also debate about whether the race should be marketed to just locals or both to locals and tourists.

The organizing committee is looking for feedback from the public on next year's race. Anyone who wants to contact them or be put on their mailing list, should send an email to



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