By Mike Lynch
The three-day, 90-mile Adirondack Canoe Classic, one of the most popular events in the Adirondack Park, is set to come under new ownership by 2021.
The nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail recently signed a letter of intent to purchase the race for $90,000 from Brian McDonnell, who owns and operates the race with his wife, Grace, NFCT executive director Karrie Thomas said.
“Right now, we’re in the process of raising the funds we’ll need to purchase the race,” said Thomas, whose organization promotes and stewards a 740-mile paddling trail from the Adirondacks to Maine.
Thomas said the McDonnells will continue to own and run the 90-Miler this year, with NFCT staff learning the ropes. The goal is for the NFCT to own and manage the 2021 version, with Brian McDonnell providing operational guidance. He would continue to help the transition in a reduced role the following year.
The McDonnells, who could not be reached for this article, have owned and operated the race since the late 1990s. They also own Mac’s Canoe Livery in Lake Clear.
Thomas said the purchase would also include the Adirondack Watershed Alliance, the organization through which the McDonnells organize their paddlesport events, and three paddling races: ‘Round the Mountain and the Celebrate Paddling Invitational in Saranac Lake and the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta.
But the 90-Miler is by far the biggest piece of the purchase.
The 90-Miler, which started in 1983, attracts roughly 600 paddlers in about 250 to 275 boats annually. More than half of those participants do the race non-competitively as a “tour.” Paddlers participate in canoes, kayaks, guideboats, voyageur canoes, four-person canoes and stand-up paddleboards.
“I think the energy that comes out of the woodwork for the 90-Miler is inspiring,” said Thomas, noting that hard-core racers and casual family-oriented paddlers all enjoy the same event.
Thomas said the mission of the 90-Miler matches up with that of the NFCT, and that’s why the nonprofit is aiming to purchase it.
“Our purpose is to improve access to paddling, to promote paddlesports, and to help paddlesports support local economies,” said Thomas, who has participated in the race as a paddler and a volunteer.
Profits from the races will be put back into NFCT’s work in the Adirondacks, Thomas said. The money will go toward stewardship work, scholarships for youth paddling trips and other NFCT activities.
“We’ll be able to expand the amount of energy we put into the Adirondacks,” she said.
She has plans to contract with a local race director to oversee the event, she said, and will use existing organizational infrastructure to provide support.
“It’s not clear whether we’ll set up a new office here (in the Adirondacks),” Thomas said. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but certainly we want to keep the management of the event local.”
NFCT headquarters is in Waitsfield, Vermont, but the organization has staff in other states. Its communication director and two of its board members are based in the Adirondacks. It has supported the race through its staff and volunteers over the years.
The NFCT route starts in Old Forge and ends in Fort Kent, Maine. It consists of lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers, and passes through Vermont, Quebec, and New Hampshire on the way.
The 90-Miler starts in Old Forge and finishes day one in Blue Mountain Lake. Paddlers travel from Long Lake to the Crusher boat launch on the Raquette River outside of Tupper Lake on day two. Paddlers then made their way from the Fish Creek Campground through the Saranac Chain of Lakes to Lake Flower for the finish in Saranac Lake on the final day.
The 90-Miler route largely mirrors the first stretch of NFCT route with a few exceptions.