Whitewater river rafting fun

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The Mother’s Day Rio Grande Whitewater Festival takes place Friday through Sunday, in Pilar, N.M., just southwest of Taos, and is sanctioned by the American Canoe Association. 

This also launches the inaugural river event for the Rio Grande del Norte national monument. It is the second oldest kayak and river raft race west of the Mississippi. Public is invited to gather at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, near the Orilla Verde Recreation area. 

Under the leadership of the BLM’s Taos Field Office, the recent celebration of The Rio Grande del Norte national monument protects 242,555 acres including the wild and scenic Rio Grande Corridor from the Colorado border to Pilar. 

The whitewater festival brings excitement and fun for all ages. It will also benefit regional river communities, paddle sport camaraderie, adventure tourism and economic development while providing educational awareness about river and aquatic ecosystems and the national push for a “Blue Revolution.”

The festival kicks off with the River Rendezvous on Friday, May 10th with Keynote topic, Protecting Rivers in a Time of Water Shortage. Keynote speakers are Rolf Schmidt-Peterson, Rio Grande Bureau Chief for the Interstate Stream Commission, and Steve Harris, NMROA member and founder of Rio Grande Restoration. 

A host of speakers include, Paul Bauer, Associate Director of New Mexico Bureau of Geology at NM Tech, John Bailey, Recreation Director for the Taos BLM Field Office speaking about the recent Rio Grande Del Norte national monument, Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos: Because Water Matters and many more. 

This event, while traditionally a river guide educational training event, will be open to the public for the first time with lunch provided by The Pilar Yacht Club. 

Tickets for the entire day including lunch is $15 or $5 for a la carte speakers in the morning and afternoon. 

The Whitewater slalom starts after the River Rendezvous. 

Whitewater slalom racing started in Europe where the first World Championships were held in Switzerland in 1949. Since 1992, it is one of two kayak/canoe disciplines in the Summer Olympics. The aim is to navigate a decked kayak or canoe through a course of hanging gates on river rapids in the fastest time possible. 

Competitive play boating is known as freestyle kayaking or Rodeo. In play boating, the paddler performs various technical moves in one place (known as a playspot) as opposed to downriver kayaking. The paddler uses various freestyle tricks including surfing, spinning, cartwheels, blunts, flips, loops and can even get the kayak completely airborne. Los Alamos kayaker, Yates Coulter, designed the slalom course. The kayak Rodeo competition will be judged by nationally recognized Colorado rodeo judge, Ken Hoeve and New Mexico kayak and Stand-Up-Paddling racer, Atom Crawford. Ken was the winner in last year’s SUP race. 

Stand-Up-Paddling began in the 1960’s when surfing instructors used the technique to position themselves for photography taking. 

More recently, professional surfers use the technique for training and ease of learning. River SUPing- is gaining popularity in the boating community due to the skill and agility required to navigate rapids and obstacles. It is now the fastest growing watersport activity because it allows a wide range of athletic types to get involved.

Kayakers and Stand Up Paddle Boarders can tune up their skills at a free clinic on the Pilar Racecourse hosted by Durango, Colo.’s, Four Corners River Sports famous Paddle School, 5 p.m. 

They are also offering free all day demos for SUP, kayak and inflatable kayaks on Saturday, with or without instructor. Sign up is at festival headquarters in Rio Bravo Campground at Orilla Verde Recreation Area in Pilar between 8-11 a.m. Drop by Four Corners booth for more information. 

Four Corners River Sports has also generously donated a brand-new red Jackson Villain Creek kayak valued at $1,000 retail to benefit nonprofit, NMROA. Tickets are $5 each, or 3 for $10 and can be purchased online at raftnewmexico.org. Tickets can also be purchased at Blue Heron Brewery in Rinconada, The Pilar Yacht Club, or La Bodega Fresca at the entrance to Taos Plaza. 

CKS-Colorado Kayak Supply, AIRE, NRS, Jack’s Plastic Welding, Smith Optics, The Taos Inn and many others are donating great prizes.

The Mother’s Day Races were founded in the 1950’s by Los Alamos paddle boater and LANL employee, Jim “Stretch” Fretwell. After competing at Colorado’s FiBark for many years, Stretch decided to start a paddle race closer to home on the Rio Grande, now known as the Pilar Racecourse. 

The races were supported by Los Alamos’s Explorers: Post 20, The Atomic City Citizens Band Radio Club, The Los Alamos Fire Department to name a few. By the late 1960’s, an estimated 2,000 spectators leap frogged their way downstream on Highway 68 to watch rafts and kayaks twist and turn through the whitewater. 

Stretch eventually handed it over to the Adobe Whitewater Club who valiantly ran the races for more than 30 years until they handed it over to NMROA in 2008. This year, NMROA wants to expand the races and welcomes spectator, racer and sponsor enthusiasm and support. 

On Saturday, river enthusiasts can enjoy fly fishing demos with guide, Toner Mitchell of Trout Unlimited. Bird enthusiasts and families will love National Migratory Bird Day at the BLM’s Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center. They will go on morning bird walks, live birds of prey from Santa Fe Raptor Center and an interpretive exhibit. Public is invited to join hikes with BLM Rangers on their new and improved trails next to the Rio Grande.

International Migratory Bird Day began in 1993 by partners of the bird conservation consortium, Partners in Flight; a diverse group of people working together to conserve birds and their habitats. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center established the day and held the first event. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed, growing the event nationally. 

The organizers intent was to focus attention on something important — the journey that some 350 species take between their summer and winter homes. IMBD is celebrated in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. 

The Rio Grande Corridor including the Wild and Scenic section of the Rio Grande is an important migratory bird corridor. Visitors will most likely see Bald Eagles, Cranes, Blue Herons, Canadian geese and host of ducks fishing and nesting on the Rio Grande. While you are at it, keep a look out for river otters!

Festival Parties and Music provided by Taos Mesa Brewing and Blue Heron Brewery. 

Taos Mesa Brewing, the newly opened, microbrewery, restaurant and lively nightspot, is hosting the whitewater festival party, 8 p.m. Saturday. Santa Fe’s, Anthony Leon and the Chain, one of the top bands in the Rocky Mountains, will be performing. 

The brewery has created  a Rio Grande del Norte brew. Free shuttle service for Taos Mesa Brewery to and from Pilar, provided by MNROA member, Los Rios River Runners. 

The Après Race party, awards and raffle for the Jackson Villain kayak is hosted on Sunday, at Blue Heron Brewery just downstream of the races in Rinconada. Join them for Mother’s Day Music with Boris McCutcheon.

Designated reserved festival camping is available at Orilla Verde Recreation Area and day use fees have been waived by the BLM for the festival weekend. Sign in at Rio Bravo headquarters. 

For a full schedule of events or more information visit raftnewmexico.org.