For some participants, the day of the event takes on added significance. PHOTO BY RICH HODGKINS
For some participants, the day of the event takes on added significance. PHOTO BY RICH HODGKINS
For 56 years now, the Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon in Illinois has attracted hundreds of canoe and kayak racers. The race course is the 18.5-mile stretch of the Des Plaines River from Oak Springs Road in Libertyville to Dam No. 2 in Prospect Heights and will take place again on May 17. 

Founded originally by Ralph Frese to introduce his Boy Scout troop to the beauty of the Des Plaines River, the event has become a “must do” event for paddlers across the country, if for no other reason than to get a coveted embroidered event patch received upon completion of the race or, for first-place finishers, the unique voyageur statue.

My husband Alan is co-chair of this event and he works with a small and very dedicated group of volunteers who give many hours of their time every year to make sure no detail of the event is overlooked. As his willing sounding board, I listen to Alan voice frustration about various aspects of the event that need to be nailed down, confirmed, reconfirmed, settled or figured out, sometimes just a few days before the race date. 

Here is his summary of what the organizing committee (consisting of two co-chairs, a secretary/treasurer, registrar, safety and start line coordinators, marketing and outreach members) will do to facilitate 500 or more paddlers in the 57th Annual Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon on May 17:

• Contract with the company that takes care of electronic registration (which then requires umpteen emails sent by the co-chairs on alternating days to remind all tandem paddlers to sign the waiver).

• Coordinate with the Lake County Forest Preserve District, in which the race starts, to provide traffic control, parking and make sure the upper section of the river is clear of debris for the race.

• Confirm that the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the major sponsor, provides traffic control, parking, shuttle buses, port-a-potties, entertainment and police, and clears debris from the lower section of the river.

• Organize two group of “sweepers,” paddlers who will keep an eye on both Lake and Cook county portions of the course while the race is underway.

• Ensure the safety of all participants in each of the 27 races within the event with a communication team, members of which are stationed on bridges along the course.

• Contract with food vendors, timers and suppliers of the headquarters tent, storage lockers and T-shirts.
• Maintain a supply of buoys, race result boards, water coolers and leftover T-shirts.

• Finalize design/artwork for the annual postcard, patch and T-shirts and get them ordered and delivered on time.
While registration fees pay for much of what is needed in advance, it still takes an army of volunteers on race day to make it all happen. I hope that the paddlers will thank them for all their efforts on May 17.
For more information on the event, go to