Are you familiar with dragon boat races? They are popular festivals centered around teams of people racing each other in colorfully decorated boats. Surrounding cities in North Alabama are especially known for their dragon boat festivals because of the rivers running through their downtown areas. Downtown Huntsville doesn’t have a river, but we do have a canal, and on April 22nd and 23rd, the public will be able to Paddle the Canal for the first time ever. When Chad Emerson of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. approached Redstone Federal Credit Union (RCFU) about sponsoring the brand-new event, they were excited to be a partner. Redstone will be there on the 22nd with lots of great giveaways and other surprises for attendees. (Bonus to our Rocket City locals: Redstone Federal Credit Union members get a discount to the event – click here to find out more.) The concept came full circle with Red Brick Strategies’ eclectic and dynamic poster design.
The canal between the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Von Braun Center is only about 10 feet wide (originally designed to look like a Venetian waterway), so kayakers and canoers will race against the clock, one at a time, from the Rotary Fountain near Heart of Huntsville Drive, down the canal, around Thrasher Fountain, and back for a grand total of 550 yards. Paddlers will be chip-timed electronically and teams of two and four will be ranked per the sum time of all team members. There are three categories that registrants can choose to compete in: expert, novice, and costume. The costume category will not be timed but winners will be announced via a third-party judge.
The urban kayaking time trial will start at 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 22nd with the expert category and will have a rolling schedule. Once all three categories have been completed, registrants can choose to do two more untimed runs on the course as their “free paddle” runs. All racing will be completed by Saturday evening, but registrants can come back on Sunday from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. to keep paddling in the canal.
Don’t own a kayak or don’t want to transport yours downtown? Not to worry! The North Alabama Canoe and Kayak Club (NACK) will be on-site renting kayaks for just $5 for both days. Want to take a break from kayaking and ride a bike around the park? We’ve got those too! Download the Zagster app and take a Downtown BlueBike for a spin. The renovations in Big Spring Park are first-rate and we can’t wait to benefit from the increased water flow, more space for activities, and improved infrastructure (all the park benches will have outlets installed.)
If you want to use your own canoe or kayak, there will be a drop-off in the Paddler’s Park event area during packet pick-up on Friday evening. Hired security will be present to monitor the canoes and kayaks overnight on Friday and Saturday to make this event as convenient as possible for everyone!
Paddler’s Park is the “hang out” area behind the South Hall of the Von Braun Center. People are welcome to come and enjoy the free entertainment and activities. There will be several food truck options there available for purchase, including Beast Mode, House of Kabob, Pearl Asian Cuisine, Little Red Lunchbox, Angel’s Island Coffee, The Perfect Pucker, Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream, Shiver Shaved Ice, and What’s Popp’N.
As if the other festivities weren’t enough, there’s lots more. A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard is bringing their yellow Lucky Duck Fiat they will be giving away in May, the Downtown Huntsville Library Bookmobile will be there, you can find the Talladega Pace Car and sign up to win tickets to Talladega Motor Speedway, We Run HSV will have your race photos posted as they upload them in real time, Woodtech will have a booth set up with some neat souvenirs, the Coast Guard will be certifying vessels and giving out free information on boat safety, and 104.3 WZYP, 94.1 WHRP, and 93.3 NASH ICON will be providing entertainment. We also have to give thanks to our friends at WHNT 19 for covering the event. Whew!
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Ellery Miller is big into the running, outdoors, and beer scenes in Huntsville. She moved to Huntsville from Colorado Springs where she attended Colorado College (CC). Ellery has a background in environmental policy, community engagement, and writing. She worked for the Colorado Springs Office of Innovation and Sustainability and chaired the CC Energy and Environmental Security think tank.