By Steve Maher AdventureWenatchee.com
WENATCHEE — During its heyday, the Ridge to River Relay’s crème de la crème was its paddling leg — with canoeists and kayakers churning away down the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers to the finish line in Riverfront Park. Now, in an ironic twist, the sport of paddling’s rapid growth in the community means the expected rebirth of Ridge to River will need to be put off for a year, organizers and supporters say. Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club, which has been spearheading efforts to restart the race, is working on a strategic plan to redevelop and expand its facility along the Columbia at the foot of Ninth Street, and doesn’t have the resources to pull off Ridge to River this year, said Executive Director Skip Johnson. The club operates two boat houses and a dock at the site now and is at full capacity. The expansion project calls for expansion of the boat house nearest Walla Walla Street into a learning center with additional storage for boat, a new dock for rowing programs, and improvements to the boathouse nearest the river. An early estimate pegged the cost at $1 million.
The club announced late last year that Ridge To Ridge would return on April 4 after a six-year hiatus. But Johnson informed Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce officials last week that the race would not be held this year. The strategic plan for the paddling and rowing facility needs to be submitted to the Chelan County PUD, which oversees the Columbia River shoreline where the club complex is slated to be developed, by March 1. “We don’t have the staff or available manpower to do both at the same time,” Johnson said. “The ‘Paddler Campus’ has been the club’s key project for at least two years now. Things are setting up to make that happen.” Johnson said the goal is to get the club’s strategic plan included in the PUD’s new comprehensive plan and then to seek funding from the PUD and others to help pay for the complex. The club also needs to make presentations to the Wenatchee City Council and the Wenatchee Parks Board over the next month to get their support. He said the decision to put Ridge to River on the shelf for a year is a bittersweet one. He said he had received positive comments from people interested in seeing the race come back. After a run of 29 years, Ridge to River was last held in 2009. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the event attracted close to 2,000 athletes annually. But that number dropped to just over 300 a year in its final two years. Johnson said the plan now is to hold Ridge to River on April 2, 2016.
A race organizing committee had settled on a race course that would have included a downhill ski leg at Mission Ridge, a bike ride from Pybus Public Market to Alcoa and back, two running legs from Pybus to Lincoln Rock State Park, and then the final leg — a canoe paddle on the Columbia — from Lincoln Rock State Park to Pybus. “We thought it would be a safe and very doable course,” Johnson said.