Home » Illinois Paddling Council Blog » THE 61TH ANNUAL DES PLAINES RIVER CANOE AND KAYAK MARATHON – May 20, 2018


A behind the scenes look at what it takes to make it happen again… by Sigrid Pilgrim


For 60 years now, the Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon in Illinois has attracted many hundreds of canoes and kayaks for the 18.5 mile stretch from Oak Springs Road in Libertyville to Dam #2 in Prospect Heights. Founded originally by Ralph Frese to introduce his boy scout troop to the beauty of the Des Plaines River, the event has become a “must participate” for many paddlers from all around the country, if for no other reason than to get the coveted embroidered patch or for the first place winners, the unique voyageur statue.


My husband Alan is co-chair of this event that happens only because a small, very dedicated group of volunteers for years has given many hours of their time to make sure no detail of the event is overlooked. As the sometimes willing sounding board, listening to Alan voice frustration about this, that, or the other aspect of the event that still hasn’t been nailed down, confirmed, reconfirmed, settled, or figured out, sometimes just a few days before race date, I sat down with him with pen and paper and asked him “Tell me, what does it take to put on the Marathon?”


So here is a summary of what it will take again to have nearly 800 paddlers participate in the 61th Annual Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon to be held May 20, 2018:


The Organizing Committee consisting of two co-chairs, secretary/treasurer, registrar, safety, start line coordinators, marketing and outreach members meet once a month to coordinate all that follows:


  • Contract with SignMeUp.com firm that takes care of electronic registration (which then requires umpteen emails sent by the co-chairs on alternating days to remind tandem paddlers that each needs to sign the waiver!)
  • Coordination with the Lake County Forest Preserve District (start line) for traffic control and parking, plus making sure the upper section of the river is clear of debris for the race
  • Confirmation with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the major sponsor, (finish line) to provide for traffic control, parking, shuttle buses, port-a-potties, entertainment and police, and also ensuring the lower section of the river is clear of debris for the race
  • Coordinating with Lake County for “sweep” paddlers from Start Line to Lake Cook Road, as well as providing a “sweep” paddler on the Cook County portion of the race from Lake Cook Road to the Finish line
  • Coordinating on course safety with 27 RACES, a communication team to be stationed on bridges to ensure safety of paddlers and pass on paddling times
  • Food vendors at end of race are researched and contracted for
  • Contracting with the official Timer
  • Arranging for the tents to shelter race headquarters for tracking race times, displays, t-shirt sales and any organization wanting to promote their activities
  • Renewing contracts for storage locker rental to house buoys, race result boards, water coolers, left-over t-shirts, and lots more no one has room for in a garage
  • Our design/artwork chair provides a unique design each year for the annual postcard, patch and t-shirt
  • Ordering patches, trophies, medals, t-shirts


And that is just the start, because without the actual people being part of it, none of that would be needed.  So here’s a list of tasks our volunteers annually give of their time and talent:


  • Event logo design for promo cards, t-shirts and patch by professional graphic designer (free)
  • Race registrar assigning start-times prior to race day
  • Saturday event set-up activities
  • Check-in registrars
  • Signage postings
  • Parking and shuttle coordinators
  • Buoy placers
  • Race starter
  • Info station staff
  • Safety boaters
  • Timers
  • Race time postings on timing boards
  • Patch, T-shirt distribution and sales
  • Webmaster
  • Mailing of trophies/medals/t-shirts not picked up on race day


And this is what your registration fees cover: Rental of storage locker, Supplies and Signage for Start and Finish Lines;  Website; RACES – Communication Group; Boat numbers; Trophies, Medals, Patches, T-shirts;  Printing and mailing of promo materials; Insurance; Volunteer lunches; Generator and Gas; Tents; T-shirts given to volunteers and other key personnel as a  “thank-you”; Port-a-Potties for the Start Line.


So that’s the summary of what it takes to put on the Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon; I may even have left out a few “needs to get done” too. I hope that all paddlers reading this will reward the many volunteers’ efforts by participating in next year’s event, May 20, 2018, to say


For more information on the event and a list of this year’s finish times, please go to



If you would like to become involved – we would love more volunteers.

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