Paarl – With the 56th running of the iconic Berg River Canoe Marathon just over two weeks away, the race organisers are considering major changes to the race route caused by vegetation and low water problems.
With the region still firmly in the grips of the drought, the very low level of water in the Berg River system has left much of the 240km course scarcely paddleable, with the first two stages of the race from Paarl to Misverstand Dam the worst affected.
To aggravate matters, the section of river from Grensplaas to Gouda on the first two legs of the race is clogged by the ever-spreading water hyacinth, and is also jammed by numerous large trees that have fallen into the river, either due to the dry conditions or landowners felling trees and neglecting to remove them.
While the Pink Lady Drakenstein race was able to go ahead, thanks to water levels bumped up by well time rainfall, the Berg organisers recognise that they cannot gamble on a repeat of that fortunate weather, and have tabled a number of alternatives for the race.
These include starting the first stage at the Franschhoek Bridge and ending at Grensplaas, or if the river is too low, holding the first stage from Gouda to Bridgetown after a loop on Misverstand Dam.
Options for the second stage include running the same stage from Gouda to Bridgetown, but with a shorter leg on Misverstand Dam, in an effort to try and retain the same race distances on each stage of the race.
Many paddlers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, and the traditional increase in the flow of entries after the Pink Lady race has not materialised.
It has fostered a rigorous debate in paddling circles, aimed at preserving the 55 year old race and it’s legacy in the region.
Central to that debate are the effects of the Paarl River Dam and Misverstand Dam, particularly in dry years when these dams are not spilling, and the growing evidence that the weather patterns are changing, with rainfall now more reliable in late July and August that was the case in the past.
The race organisers will welcome the debate, as it has already yielded options and new alternatives for them to consider as they enter the fortnight before the race, anxiously watching the weather.
The Berg River Canoe marathon starts in Paarl on 12 July and ends at Velddrif on 15 July. More information can be found at www.berg.org.za