OSCODA – Planning for the AuSable River Canoe Marathon should be in full swing by now. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still gripping the entire nation, the race, which is in its 73rd year has been drawn into question. 

With other canoe racing events getting postponed or canceled, tensions have grown as the marathon’s July 25th start date draws closer.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and we are hoping we can go on as normal,” Kathy Erickson, a chairperson on the Oscoda committee said. “We’re praying right now that things fall in place for us. This is supposed to be the 73rd marathon and I am still hoping it is. We (the committee) knows the paddlers want to paddle, we get that, but we have to look at the safety of the paddlers and the spectators. If the social distancing rules are still in effect, how do you do it? We are just following along (with the outbreak) and trying to make the best decision that we can.” 

The Klondike Challenge, scheduled for earlier this month in Oscoda, was canceled because of the outbreak. The first leg of the canoe racing Triple Crown, the General Clinton, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend has been canceled as well. A timeline for a decision on the marathon, the second leg of the triple crown, is still being discussed. A committee meeting scheduled for early next week should shed some light on the situation, just ahead of the May 1st opening of registration for the event. 

“We are in a holding pattern right now, there is really nothing else we can do,” Erickson said. “We are still hoping we can take registration in May like we normally do. We are going to decide what the cutoff for saying ‘yes,”’we are going to have it or ‘no,’ we aren’t is going to be.”

Erickson pointed out that with an event that spans from Grayling to Oscoda, a decision isn’t as simple as it might sound.

“There is talk that the committee doesn’t want to host the event and that’s not at all what the case is,” she said. “We really want to say ‘yes we are on’, but there are so many factors that have to fall into place that people don’t realize. There are so many permits we have to get before we can even do this. There is one from the DNR we have to get and they aren’t issuing permits right now for anything. We also have to get a permit from the city of Grayling, the forest service and the county. A lot of things have to fall into place for this.”

“The committee was joking that this is a horrible position to be in,” she added. “Though, if the DNR doesn’t issue permits that takes the weight off our shoulders. Either way it is going to be a hard decision and it is certainly not a position I imagined being in.” 

The marathon was canceled once before, in 1969, due to issues with the planning committee. There is a possibility of the race being postponed for later in the year, in an effort to keep 2020 from being only the second cancellation.

“We have tossed the idea around of postponing, it was held in the fall at one time,” Erickson said. “Logistically, we would have to see how that would work. We have to rely on law enforcement too when we put this on so if the postponement was something that we do we would have to really coordinate well with law enforcement. It is something we have talked about though, we haven’t taken anything off the table. We will just have to see where we are at moving forward with this craziness that we are in.”