Annual River Rat Race taking shape

  • Racers take to the Millers River in Athol for the 2022 River Rat Race, marking the event’s return after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Patrick Madden and Adam Gelinas beat Jake Crotser and Ryan Zaveral in a mad dash to the finish line in the 2022 River Rat Race. For Madden, front, and Gelinas, back, it was their first win together. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

For the Recorder
Published: 3/17/2023 1:59:37 PM

ATHOL — Last year marked the return of the annual River Rat Race after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizers are hoping even more canoes will enter the competition this year.

The first River Rat Race took place in 1964, with a total of 12 canoes participating. The winning canoe, manned by Art Forand and Sonny Soucie, was made of canvas and is now on display at the Orange Historical Society. Every year an award named for Forand and Soucie is given to the team that passes the most canoes.

In a February 2020 interview, late longtime race organizer Dave Flint said, “Next to winning, that’s the most prestigious award there is.”

Jeanette McIntosh, who was named chair of the River Rate Race Committee following Flint’s death in December 2021, said it’s volunteers who make the race possible.

“We have approximately 100 [volunteers],” she said, “when you add in the fire departments and you add in all of the folks who work with the Lions, in addition to Lions members and other community members who give us a hand on those two days.”

The Athol Lions Club took over race planning and promotion from the original River Rat Race Committee in 1991. While the race itself takes less than an hour, there are many weeks of planning.

The cost to enter the April 8 race is $42 per team. As has been the case since 2019, Else Where, located at 1485 Main St. in Athol, serves as the race headquarters. Registration forms may be obtained and dropped off there, or teams may register online at The deadline for registration is April 6.

McIntosh said about 230 teams competed in the canoe race last year.

“It was a little low,” she said. “But we are hoping that we get a lot more this year.”

A favorite event, which takes place at Athol Town Hall the night before the race, is the drawing of starting positions for all the competing canoes. The last canoe drawn on Friday, April 7, will receive half the amount of canoes in cash. In other words, if there are 250 canoes, the lucky team will get $125. Applications will be taken on Friday and Saturday morning, but those won’t be eligible for drawing. The drawing will take place at 7 p.m.

Events taking place on Saturday, April 8, prior to the River Rat Race include the Athol Area YMCA Big Cheese 5K road race. Runners step off from the starting line on School Street at 9:30 a.m. They will traverse parts of Main and Exchange streets, take a lap around Silver Lake, head down Crescent Street, then proceed along Main Street and cross the finish line in front of Town Hall. Once all the runners are underway, the River Rat Promenade will proceed down Main Street under the supervision of the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce.

Teams will start putting canoes in the Millers River at 12:30 p.m. and the starting cannon will be fired at 1 p.m.

“Everything is approximate,” McIntosh said. “It can be held up if there’s a problem downstream with any of the safety measures. Last year we almost had to hold the start of the race because a big tree broke loose and blocked the Daniel Shays Bridge from anyone being able to go under.”

Also taking place during River Rat Weekend is a spaghetti supper the day before the race at the Athol American Legion — a fundraiser sponsored by the Athol-Orange Chuck Stone Little League. The supper begins at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 7. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 12 and under. Children under 3 can eat for free.

The North Quabbin Lodge of Masons is sponsoring a pancake breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. the morning of the race. The breakfast will take place at the Masonic Lodge, 336 Main St. in Athol.

And, on Saturday afternoon, the North Quabbin Community Coalition will, in conjunction with Billy Goat Boats, be sponsoring a sober family block party. Last year’s event took place at Fish Park in Athol; this year, organizers are hoping to party at a location in Orange. Further details are still being finalized.

Greg Vine can be reached at


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