“It's the only one of its kind,” said race director Ryan Hughes about the event. “While Arkansas does have other paddle sport races, none of them are true whitewater events. In the Cossatot Race, athletes must navigate a course of roughly 1/3 mile through the Cossatot Falls, one of the state's most notorious sets of rapids.”
The 26-mile Cossatot River, which is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, is one of the most challenging whitewater streams in the state with ratings that can reach V (expert) in difficulty on some portions of the stream. Of note, floatable river levels are dependent on rainfall. Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area in Wickes is located along a 12-mile stretch of this river.
According to the event website, the race will happen on the first Saturday with enough water during the period starting from February 18 and ending March 11. The open dates are due to the nature of the sport. "We know, we know, it's hard to plan four weekends in a row, and it's cold that time of year,” stated copy on the event website. "But this is Arkansas, and that's just how whitewater works here, so dress warmly, and hope for rain."
This year’s event includes races in categories that include short boat, long boat, open boat, jr. paddlers (under the age of 18) and sr. paddlers ( over the age of 55). There are both men's and women's classes for all race categories.
“The race is a community-driven event, and Arkansas has one of the strongest paddling communities in the nation,” said Hughes. “All this boils down to a great big celebration on the river, where athletes enjoy spectating and cheering on their fellow boaters almost as much as they enjoy competing. The race itself draws competitors from all over the country and in years past has drawn both former Olympians and professional kayakers on the cutting edge of extreme whitewater.”
The event is also spectator friendly for those with an adventurous spirit. “Spectators need to be up to a bit of light hiking and the possibility of cold, wet weather, but there's easy access and amazing natural views,” said Hughes. “Plus, if you're willing to scramble around on the boulders a bit, you could have a pretty great seat at one of the most exciting competitions around.” For more details on the race, visit cossatotrace.com.