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Postponed Missouri River 340 race not stopping all competitors

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | 11:20 p.m. CDT; updated 9:25 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 22, 2010

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologist Don Wilkison.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri River 340 will have to wait. The 340-mile race for canoeists, kayakers and other paddlers that starts in Kansas City, Kan. and ends in St. Charles has been postponed because of dangerous conditions on the Missouri River. The race, scheduled to take place next Tuesday through Friday, has been moved to Aug. 24.

Race Coordinator Scott Mansker confirmed postponement of the fifth-annual race in a phone interview on Wednesday, and posted his final decision on a forum at rivermiles.com, a website covering paddling events.

MR 340 postponed

Reasons for Postponement

Checkpoints along the race would likely be impossible to reach by car.

Paddlers would have increasing difficulty landing a boat on the shore to check-in or seek assistance. 

Higher, faster currents on flooded rivers increase the danger of obstacles such as bridges and wing dikes.

Higher water levels increase the amount of dangerous debris floating in the water. 

River on the rise

Missouri River levels are climbing because of heavy rainfall in northern Missouri and Iowa. High water means increased danger for paddlers.

"The drainage network of the rivers is oriented north to south. Generally speaking, they are kind of narrow. Any water that falls from the Missouri-Iowa border runs south to the Missouri river," U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologist Don Wilkison said.

Wilkison is a hydrologist as well as paddler. He has competed in every MR 340 race and plans on participating in the rescheduled event.

One of the tributaries that contributes to the Missouri River is the Chariton River. Measurements taken in Glasgow recorded its recent rise.

“The Chariton comes in just above Glasgow. Glasgow had dropped below flood stage (25 feet) over a week ago. With the additional rainfall a couple nights ago and this morning (Monday and Tuesday night, Wednesday morning) it has been brought back to flood stage. It will continue to keep rising until sometime overnight Thursday or very early Friday morning, and slowly start to drop on Friday.” said Scott Watson, a National Weather Service hydrologist stationed in Pleasant Hill.

According to the National Weather Service website, Glasgow’s flood level is reached when farmland along the river is in danger of flooding. Watson said the water level was already high from spring and summer rains.



“We have deemed that the river is unsafe at these levels to hold an ultra-endurance event like the race,” said Mansker, who consulted with the United States Coast Guard and a hydrologist during his decision-making process.

Mansker said the MR 340 would not have been postponed because of storms alone, and that the main problem comes from the dangerous combination of the high water level along with the possibility of storms. The results could leave riders stranded.

"We have storms this time of year all the time, we have had rain events during every 340, but there have been safety buffers, sandbars," Mansker said.

Without a place to land, paddlers could be in trouble.

"If a storm blew up on paddlers there would be no place to hide," Mansker said. "They would be at the mercy of the water and the storm."

Kevin Schwartz is aware of the rising water, but says he and his teammate Matt Green, who have entered this year's event, will take their chances.

"The race is still on for us," Schwartz said. "I don't think the race should have been postponed. Whenever you enter these ultramarathon races you have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Schwartz and Green make up The Aquaholics, their team name for the MR 340. After learning the race was postponed, Schwartz and his partner realized they might not be able to participate in the Aug. 24 make-up event.

"We aren't 100 percent certain we won't be there in August, but right now it's looking like I have to head back to school," said Schwartz, a full-time student at Missouri State University in Springfield.

The two Jefferson City men are planning to stick to the original race date, pushing off in Kansas City on Tuesday. They will treat their trip as the race, hitting the designated checkpoints along the way to St. Charles.

The Aquaholics acknowledge the potential danger, but believe their preparation will keep them safe.

"We put in thousands of hours and paddled thousands of miles," Schwartz said. The 22-year old recalls paddling this January, breaking ice with his paddle to navigate through frozen water.

"With high water levels like this, it may not be perfect for all people. But, if you're trained it's just another practice run," Schwartz said.

As the race coordinator, Mansker had to consider all participants.

"It's a free river and anyone can do what they want at their own risk," Mansker said. "Is it possible for someone to go down the river safely at this time? Probably. Is it possible for 340 people to go down the river safely at this time without an incident, I don't believe so. That is my position."

Mansker said the majority of paddlers he talked to agreed with him.

"The more veteran paddlers recognize this is exactly the right call," Mansker said. It's the best decision that can be made. Really, it's the only decision that can be made."

Participants registered in the race who are unable to make the re-scheduled event will be offered a voucher to participate in the 2011 race. Mansker said there would be no refunds on the entry fees that start at $180 but increase depending on the number of people per boat.

 


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