Regatta encourages use of Muskingum River

MARIETTA – Several hundred spectators turned out for the fourth annual Mighty Muskingum River Raft Regatta from Indian Acres Park to the Marietta Harbor on Sunday afternoon.

Sponsored by the local Friends of the Lower Muskingum River group, the event was a fundraiser and a way to encourage recreational use of the Muskingum River Parkway.

For the second year in a row a six-man raft, “Smurf-it” – basically made of several blue barrels lashed together – crossed the finish line ahead of the 15 other homemade vessels that took part in the race.

“This is the kind of stuff you always wanted to do as a kid, but didn’t have the money, and your parents weren’t about to allow you to do it. But now we can,” said Andrew Donchatz, a safety boat pilot who helped build the “Smurf-it” raft.

The raft’s crew consisted of Donnie Beaumeier, Devin Posey, Dave Rudie, Nathan Crislip, Aaron Reynolds and Sam Dahler, all of Marietta.

“It’s basically the same raft we had last year, but we made a couple of modifications,” Crislip said.

Beaumeier said this may be the final year for the “Smurf-it.”

“I want to build a larger, 10-man raft next year,” he said.

The “Autobahn,” a raft crafted from styrofoam, wood, duct tape and four lawn chairs, took fifth place this year, in spite of breaking apart as it was being launched by the four-man crew from the Marietta Brewing Company. The same raft finished fourth last year.

“We were about to throw in the towel, but then decided to do a last-minute quick fix, and we still came in fifth,” said raft captain Dave Hendrickson of Marietta.

Some of the younger raft crew members were from the Sites family of Marietta, including Colton, 9, Cassie, 5, and Will, 7, under supervision of dad, Corey Sites.

“We basically turned last year’s raft into this year’s raft,” Corey said. “It was originally built as a racing shell, but we added two-by-fours and some PVC pipe to make a raft.”

That vessel also developed a break and took on some water about a third of the way from Indian Acres to the Marietta Harbor, he said. But everyone made it through safely, if somewhat wet.

The homemade raft contest wasn’t Sunday’s only race. Fourteen kayakers registered for a turnaround race that also started at Indian Acres Park.

“The kayaks start at the same time as the raft race, but they first paddle nearly a mile upstream, then turn around and head back downstream, joining the rafters headed for the finish line at the Harmar Railroad Bridge,” explained Hallie Taylor, director of this weekend’s 2014 Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival which was capped off by Sunday’s regatta.

Marietta assistant safety-service director Bill Dauber was among hundreds of people on the railroad bridge, watching rafts and kayaks cross the finish line. His daughter, JoAnna Dauber and her friend Margo Deja, happened to be visiting from Philadelphia and decided to join the kayak race.

“They’re both ex-shell crew members, but had never been kayaking on the Muskingum before,” Dauber said. “So they both bought suits and rented a two-person kayak and joined the race.”

The pair waved and hollered hello to Dauber as they passed beneath the bridge.

A total of 14 kayaks participated in the race.

“We had more kayakers this year, but fewer rafts,” observed Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator for Friends of the Lower Muskingum.

He said there were nearly 30 rafters who took part in the 2013 event.

“The idea is to raise funds for the watershed group, but also to let people know more about the Muskingum River watershed and getting people into the water to enjoy the river as a recreational experience,” Daubert said.