Northern Forest Canoe Trail acquiring 90-Miler, other boat races

The Holly’s Hooligans canoe team races in the Adirondack Canoe Classic in September 2019. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is in the process of buying the 90-mile Adirondack Canoe Classic boat race and other events from Brian and Grace McDonnell’s Adirondack Watershed Alliance.

In a press release, NFCT and AWA said they are working to transfer AWA events and activities, including the race known as the 90-Miler, to NFCT’s care by the launch of the 2021 paddling season.

The Adirondack Explorer recently reported that the nonprofit NFCT recently signed a letter of intent to buy the events from AWA for $90,000.

The McDonnells have managed AWA for over two decades. In addition to the Adirondack Canoe Classic, they currently run the ‘Round the Mountain Canoe and Kayak Race in Saranac Lake, the Celebrate Paddling Invitational in Saranac Lake and the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta.

“We’re excited by the prospect of this transition, and we’re confident that NFCT’s board and staff will provide a promising future for paddle sports in the Adirondacks,” Brian McDonnell said in the release. “NFCT’s focus on stewardship, promotion of paddling and celebration of paddling culture make them a perfect fit for carrying on the legacy of AWA and its tentpole events.”

The NFCT maintains and promotes the 740-mile water trail that runs from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine, and connects New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine. It is the longest inland water trail in the nation, consisting of 23 rivers and streams, 59 lakes and ponds, 45 communities and 65 portages.

“For 20 years, it’s been our mission to steward and promote the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and support the communities along our route,” said Karrie Thomas, NFCT’s executive director. “AWA’s work in inspiring paddlers, promoting the region’s natural beauty and giving back to communities aligns seamlessly with our goals. Brian and Grace’s contributions to paddling in the Adirondacks is immeasurable; it’s an honor to carry their legacy forward.”

AWA will continue to manage this year’s events, with NFCT staff and volunteers engaging in all aspects of operations, with a particular focus on the 90-Miler. NFCT seeks to complete fundraising and officially acquire all aspects of AWA in 2021, taking on correspondence, registration, marketing and sponsorships. Brian McDonnell plans to continue working with NFCT afterward.

NFCT has worked with AWA to support the 90-Miler for several years, including an aid station during the race.

NFCT board member Anne Brewer said revenue from the canoe races and its own Northern Forest Explorers trips for children will help the group improve paddling route access between Old Forge and Saranac Lake, as well as “mitigate environmental impacts.”

Other events the NFCT already runs are Waterway Work Trips, the Missisquoi Paddle-Pedal in Richford, Vermont, and the Paddling Film Festival.


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