Canoe race event allows scouts, public to enjoy Yadkin River

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 14, 2024

ROWAN COUNTY — The South Yadkin River Canoe and Kayak race has been going for almost 40 straight years, and 2024 proved no different despite worries that the event could be canceled recent rain had caused the river to swell above the boat access points.

The course for the race runs along the Yadkin River from the U.S. Highway 601 access to the Hannah Ferry Road boat access. The event was originally run by Sam Bonds, who had to retire from the organizer position after aging out. Bonds said that he and Jeff Gobble came up with the idea after the city of Salisbury hosted a grand opening for the Hannah Ferry Road access.

“In 1986, they inaugurated this dock, and the Parks and Recreation got the councilmen to come dedicate this. They also had a canoe race then, and we actually started the South Yadkin race the year after,” said Bonds.

After Bonds retired in 2010, Scout Troop 448 took over the event.

“The troop had made certificates, we had participated in it, we had helped with it, all just to support them. We picked it up because we didn’t want to have the event go away. You see a lot of scouts participate in it, it’s a great event. It’s a really beautiful paddle, an undeveloped area about six miles,” said Mike Agee, a troop committee member.

Participating in Saturday’s iteration of the event were individuals from Ireland, Colorado and New York and troops from Salisbury and Henderson. Hollifield said that Saturday was the largest group of participants yet, as approximately 85 people in 50 boats participated in the race.

Butch Hollifield, a troop committee member, said that he has been involved in the event since its inception, first solely as a participant and now as both a participant and a troop organizer. When the event was independent, it attracted more people who wanted the opportunity to compete. Agee said that people came from surrounding states for a chance to compete in the South Yadkin River, but most have aged out.

The race is still sponsored by the United States Canoe Association and times are still recorded, but Hollifield and Agee said that it has become more of a relaxed environment in recent years.

“We couldn’t hold this without liability insurance and the Rowan Rescue Squad and Ellis (Cross Country Fire Department). If you want to paddle, we’ve got Porta-Potties, we’ve got shuttle services, we’ve got safety on the water. We’ve got more rec than we do competition, so it’s just all fun,” said Agee.

Yadkin River State Trail Coordinator Ward Swann from the Yadkin Riverkeepers was also present at the event. Swann said that the reason he goes to events like these is to help raise awareness about and to promote usage of the Yadkin River State Trail, which starts at the Kerr Scott Reservoir and runs 163 miles to Morrow Mountain State Park.

“All the way up through the basin you can find some pretty good stretches where you don’t see any houses. A lot of that’s because there’s been a renewed effort towards a 50- to 100-foot buffer between development and the river. You can be right beside a neighborhood and not even know it. It’s a pretty quick way to get a wilderness experience without having to go very far,” said Swann.

Swann also said that one of his main pushes is for the river to become more accessible by adding extra access points on areas of the river where it can approach 15 miles between accesses.

“A classic example is from Tanglewood, the next access point down is (Highway) 64. That’s 15 miles, and that can be a long day. Especially in the springtime, there’s a lot of fishing to be done there. There’s two spots I want to find somewhere in there and I’d love to find someone to work with,” said Swann.

Hollified said that while the event did not make enough to serve as a true fundraiser for the scouts, money raised between the entry fees and sponsorships the troop was able to keep the event running. Agee noted that sponsorships from Dick’s Sporting Goods and Fleming Candy Company allowed the organizers to hand out prizes to the category winners.