CAMP VERDE - During its 11 years of existence, the Verde River Canoe Challenge was a raging success among Arizona paddlers. Usually drawing more than 100 river runners each year, it was always a much anticipated day on the Verde.
For all of its success in Camp Verde's back yard, there was a local disconnect.
"The town was just not involved and didn't get the economic benefit from it other than people buying gas or going to McDonald's," says Chip Norton, event coordinator.
Organizers want to change that this year as the renamed Verde River Runoff is launched on March 23.
Originally a Northern Arizona University class project directed by Charles Hammersley, the old Verde Canoe Challenge was dropped by the school after the 2011 run. Members of the Verde River Valley Nature Organization (VRVNO) joined forces with the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce to revive the event and expand its reach.
The Runoff is now an all-day event with a free festival downtown. Vendors can still sign up to participate at the festival.
"We've got a lot of things lined up," says Stephanie Peters, Chamber of Commerce secretary. "There will be a climbing wall with five trails up. And we'll have a couple of bands playing."
Festival events at the town ramada and field next to Fort Verde State park will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Prescott bluegrass band Just 4 Mama will start at 11 a.m. to be followed by the reggae band the Chromatics in the afternoon.
Chef Wayne will provide food, and White Hills Gallery will host community art among the vendors. Nonprofit vendors, sponsors and organizers will have booths, such as VRVNO, the Nature Conservancy and SRP. For anyone who wants to vend, booth space is free.
"We're viewing this more as a family fun event and we're expecting vendors who are going to be family fun related," Peters says.
The hosting organizations divvied up the responsibilities between the river event and the festival event.
"When we decided last spring to bring this thing back as a great river event, we wanted there to be more of a town component and have them stay longer," said Norton, the coordinator for the river event. "That was the goal."
Organizers have posted announcements and ads across the state, targeting paddling groups and distributing flyers. They began getting a steady stream of around five people a day registering to participate on the website. Norton estimates they will have well over 100 by the time of the race.
"When they drop off Dad, or brother or sister or Mom at the river, the rest of the family has a place to go while they're on the river," Peters says.
Participants can check in and leave their boats at White Bridge and then drive down Salt Mine Road to Beasley Flat to park their vehicles. They will be shuttled back to White Bridge by 9:30 a.m. to the start of the race.
As always, the Runoff will start at White Bridge at 10 a.m. and participants will canoe or kayak to Beasley Flat, about 10 miles downstream. Arrival time is expected to be around 2:30 p.m. The awards ceremony will be at around 3 p.m. at the festival downtown.
Deadline to participate is March 20. The fee is $50 for a one-person boat and $75 for a tandem boat.
After the 2009 run, when there were 256 participants, the U.S. Forest Service started limiting it 200 paddlers. Only one year was the event cancelled due to high water; that was 2010.
Norton says that while the Verde River is expected to be extremely high this weekend because of last weeks rain and snow in Northern Arizona, no storms are predicted for next week leading up to the race.
"It should be at a good level before the event," Norton says.
The river generally runs under 300 cubic feet per second. A run down the river would only be canceled if the level reaches more than 700 cfs. When the race was cancelled in 2010, the river was at more than 1,000 cfs.
For more information about registering for the Runoff or to register free to be a vendor at the festival, go online at www.verderiverrunoff.org.