Flat water race that spans from Old Forge to Saranac Lake is back after year off due to pandemic
By Jamie Organski
Since 1983, paddling enthusiasts of all skill levels have competed in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, better known as “the 90-Miler,” a three-day, flat water, timed race that spans from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. After canceling the 2020 event due to COVID-19, this year’s race is set to begin at the Old Forge Pond on Friday, with the first wave of boats taking off at 8 a.m.
The event was previously managed by the Adirondack Watershed Alliance (AWA), and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) took over ownership in 2020. With support from the AWA and its founders, Brian and Grace McDonnell, the NFCT is now running the 90-Miler as well as other events including the Round the Mountain, Celebrate Paddling Invitational and the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta.
Inlet Tourism Director Adele Burnett is excited that the 90-Miler is back on this year, following the cancellation of last year’s event.
“It is a fun event to follow,” Burnett said. “It is especially fun to follow [racers] we know from our hometowns, like my son-in-law, Kevin, who has done the race four times.”
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For precautions, NFCT organizers have required that all racers submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of the start of the race. Although racers are not required to wear masks on the course, all racers, pit crews, volunteers, staff and spectators will be required to wear masks at the start line and finish line of each day. NFCT organizers said they continually update their protocols in accordance with state and federal recommendations pertaining to COVID-19 and delta variant outbreaks for the safety and wellbeing of all involved.
The 90-Miler race course coincides with the first 90 miles of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the schedule is:
- Day 1: Old Forge to Blue Mountain Lake;
- Day 2: Long Lake to “The Crusher” boat launch in Tupper Lake;
- Day 3: Fish Creek to Lake Flower in Saranac Lake.
A much-loved tradition
The annual voyage attracts hundreds of paddlers from all across the nation competing in a range of classes and vessels, including solo, tandem, four-person and eight-person Voyageur canoes, solo and tandem kayaks and one- and two-person guide boats.
Since its inception, the 90-Miler has served as a cherished tradition for visitors and locals alike, including the Tickner family of Old Forge. Natalie Tickner participated in her final race in 2018 at 85 years young. Together, the family has tallied more than 9,000 miles, and 100 races as of 2019, a feat not to be taken lightly.
The 90-Miler is a phenomenal event for Old Forge, and other communities along the Route 28 and Route 30 corridors, said Town of Webb Publicity Director Mike Farmer. As the starting point of the 90-Miler, Old Forge will host upward of 3,000 people, including competitors and their families, support crews, vendors, race staff, and spectators, for the launch Friday morning.
“That is a tremendous boost to the business community, coming on the heels of the Labor Day weekend,” Farmer said. “This event attracts multi-generational families, whose members like paddling and the Adirondack outdoor lifestyle and natural resource recreation which is the mainstay of the Central Adirondacks. They are good stewards of the environment and public grounds, and spend [considerable] money on their sport.”
The 90-Miler event is one that is tailor-made to Adirondack communities, and reflects the culture and values of its residents, Farmer continued.
“The Adirondack Canoe Classic is a strenuous, competitive event, but it’s also a floating community celebrating nature, history, and human bonding. It’s the essence of the Adirondacks, and often the participants are inspired to become residents. That’s sustainable tourism.”
Burnett’s favorite place to watch the race is Inlet’s Arrowhead Lakefront. “You can see the flicker of their paddles as they turn the bend in Fourth Lake a mile away, and then cheer them on as they paddle right by you on the boardwalk in the Fourth-Fifth Lake Channel. When Inlet Common School had students, they would take time from their classes and watch from the school’s backyard as they paddled through Fifth Lake and pulled out at the carry,” she said.
More information on the race can be found at https://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/adirondack90miler/
Why doesn’t the race go to Axton Landing and the actual carry to Upper? Only to the crusher and then to Fish Creek??
The starts/finishes have been adjusted over the years for various reasons, including to accommodate the traffic logistics at each location. Day 2’s current finish has ample parking right on the highway, and a giant DEC campground makes a convenient start for Day 3.
If you were to run the continuous 90-miler “Blueway” there are a number of modifications to today’s race course.