MANNINGTON — Mannington’s annual canoe race is back.

After a year vacation due to COVID-19, boats were back in Buffalo Creek Saturday morning for the Annual Joel McCann Memorial Canoe Race. There was a smaller turnout than past years, nevertheless 18 entrants in canoes and kayaks paddled down the creek from Mannington where it began toward Farmington.

“Due to COVID I figured we’d have fewer participants,” said Mannington Fire Chief Bob Dye. “I think in 2019 we had 40 or 45 vessels and over 60 participants.”

Registration started at 8 a.m. Saturday in Hoag Park in Mannington and the first contestants were in the water at 9 a.m. The air was chilly and the water brisk but that didn’t stop any of the participants.

The contestants followed the creek all the way to the finish line under the footbridge in Farmington.

Buffalo Creek was high and rolling after the rainy days prior to the event. The creek swept the contestants downstream, and the organizers and the racers were thankful for it.

“Years past we’ve had some [races] where the water was low and there were some points where [the contestants] had to get out and carry their boat,” Dye said.

“There were some years the water was so low I had to run down the creek half the way,” said Brandon Riggs, a former volunteer firefighter, who has been both a participant and organizer for the event.

Families and onlookers gathered half-way down the course to watch the racers meet the major obstacle of the creek — the Carnegie Run Waterfall.

The Marion County Dive Team was out in the water at the base of the falls as the contestants chose to either carry their vessel beside the drop, or ride straight over.

“Some folks like to shoot the falls, that’s a real experience,” said Riggs. “We have the dive team down there because some people, unfortunately, almost drowned there several years ago. But man, is it fun to go over.”

One of the kayakers who shot the falls was 14-year-old Luke Lambert of Farmington. It was Luke’s first year on the creek and he placed third overall and second in the kayak category.

“The worst place was the falls and I got pretty soaked, my kayak got full and my boots too,” Luke said. “I was in fourth but I was able to pass a couple people at the falls because they went around and I went through.”

One of the kayakers who didn’t take the plunge down the falls was 58-year-old Vince McElwain of Worthington, a veteran of the Joel McCann Canoe Race.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-some years,” McElwain said.

Having made it to almost all 25 of the canoe races, McElwain knows the creek and has experienced its highs and lows, quite literally.

“It was fun today, the water was high and all the rocks were covered — it was just a matter of paddling,” McElwain said. “Really shows how in shape or out of shape you are.”

The Mannington Volunteer Fire Department charges $10 per entry and takes donations from local businesses in honor of the late chief Joel McCann, the event’s namesake. Most years, unless the department needs the money, they donate all proceeds.

The annual tradition began in 1996 under the name Great Buffalo Canoe Race after McCann passed away. In 2003, it was renamed to the Annual Joel McCann Memorial Canoe Race.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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