Annual River Rat Race is Back

After a two-year hiatus, the River Rat Race is back. It’s been three years

since racers have put their canoes in the Millers River for the area’s signature annual

event, but at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1, Athol’s Select board happily voted to

issue a license to the Athol Lions Club to hold the race this April. The race was

canceled for 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.

Jeannette McIntosh, new Chair of the River Rat Race Committee, made the pitch for

the license. McIntosh is filling the position long held by David Flint, who passed

away on Dec. 22.

Before she made her presentation, board member Stephen Raymond was heard to say,

“You’ve got big shoes to fill. We’re going to miss him.”

As you know,” McIntosh began, “we lost our beloved member of our Lions Club in

the North Quabbin region, Dave Flint. Dave was very active in our area, and

especially as chairman of the annual Athol to Orange River Rat canoe race.

“On Jan. 12, the Athol Lions Club met and decided to hold the canoe race — permit

pending — on April 9, 2022. At that time, they voted me in as the new chairman.”

McIntosh, a long-time member of the Lions Club, has been a member of the race

committee for 27 years and has served as finish line judge since the Lions took over as

race organizers 30 years ago.

Tom Lozier, who has been involved in the event since its inception, will continue to

serve as race director.

McIntosh told the board, “I have received hundreds and hundreds of notes and forms

that Dave had saved from previous race years. It is our commitment to continue the

race format as he had done in the past.

“Our biggest change will be to the Friday night post position drawing. We will be

outside, instead of inside at the Town Hall. After speaking with Board of Health

officials, it was determined that 400 to 500 people would not be a good idea.”

Instead, she said, the drawing will take place at the Silver Lake pavilion. Headquarters

for the event will be at Else Wear, located at 1485 Main St. Registrations will be

accepted at that location beginning March 1. An online registration website, she said,

will also be up and running by that date.

Those in attendance applauded immediately following the board’s vote to approve the

license. Due to his membership in the Lions, board member Mitch Grosky abstained

from the vote, but the remaining four members were unanimous in their approval.

Speaking with the Athol Daily News the afternoon after the board’s vote, Town

Manager Shaun Suhoski said, “I think it’s great. Kudos to the Lions Club for picking

this up, and to Jeanette McIntosh for picking up the mantle that Dave Flint left, in

terms of organizing the event.

“You don’t usually get applause for an agenda item. I think it signals — I mean, it’s a

namesake in Athol and it’s been around for many years, and to pick up where Mr.

Flint left off is a credit to the Lions organization, the work they do, and to all the

partners they engage throughout the community.

“As health conditions allow, and with events outdoors, we hope that we can have safe

and great weekend come April 9.”

Suhoski said he hopes news of the return of the race signals a return to near normality

after two years of dealing the pandemic-related restrictions.

“I think that impromptu applause,” he said, “and the permit’s approval — I think that

conveyed a sense of ‘aaah,’ a relief. It’s great to have this signature event and this

signature weekend come back to life in Athol.”

It’s not yet known if other events that have been held in conjunction with the race will

all return this year. That will be determined over the next few months. These events

have included a promenade, a spaghetti supper at the Athol Congregational Church

the night before the race, sponsored by the local Boy Scout troop, and the increasingly

popular Big Cheese 5K, sponsored by the Athol Area YMCA.

AOTV coverage

One thing that will be back, along with the race, is coverage of the event by AOTV.

Station Executive Director Carol Courville told the Athol Daily News, “Every year,

technically, there are some challenges. Since it’s been two years — three now — once

the weather breaks, we go out and test each location and see if we can still go live

there. But we have every intention of doing it, hopefully.

“We’ve been checking it right along. Ever since the passing of Dave, we were

inquiring if it would happen and any changes that might be made. One of the changes

they’re doing is having the drawing not inside, so that may or may not be covered. If

it is, it probably won’t be live because we won’t be able to go live from Silver Lake.”

Courville said AOTV is always in need of volunteers to help with the event. Anyone

interested should send her an email or call the station.

“We can train them for what their position will be for the day,” she said. “Some

people will be running camera, but others we just need to be wranglers or drivers or

do other things that we can train them on fairly simply. And, of course, we need help

setting up and breaking down.”

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