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Racin’ and ‘Reckin’ at the Regatta

Alpine and Rick Hickstein
Alpine Hickstein and her father Rick of Chadron capsize upon entering the pond in the Fur Trade Regatta at Chadron State Park on Sunday. Despite a rough start, they bounced back to win their heat. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

With Chadron’s Fur Trade Days celebration nearing, a photo on the shelf caught my eye last week. It was a black and white image from my first entry in the Fur Trade Regatta, an annual canoe race at Chadron State Park. That year, I teamed up with Bart Hughes, a coworker at the Chadron Record. It blew my mind to think that photo was taken 20 years ago.

Bart Hughes and Justin Haag
Bart Hughes and I, at left, splash our way into the pond during the 1997 races. (Chadron Record/Jim Holland)

The Fur Trade Days Regatta at Chadron State Park might not be the biggest event of Chadron’s annual community celebration but you will be hard-pressed to find one more fun.

Marissa Rotness and Nicole Schledewitz
Marissa Rotness of Alliance and Nicole Schledewitz of Hemingford contemplate their next move. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

The event is something of a laid-back affair challenging teams of two to race a lap around the park’s one-acre pond – a tribute to the fur traders of yesteryear who did much of their work by paddle power. The biggest challenge of the event is the start, in which two teams portage the canoe from the bank and attempt to board it while racing the clock and their opponents. Many competitors lose in the balancing act and capsize upon entry. Unfortunate? Yes, but the spectators seem to enjoy seeing a few wrecks and when the temperature is at or near triple digits we don’t hear many complaints from those who take the plunge.

Canoe races
Racers make their way around the pond. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Each race is usually completed in 2-6 minutes depending on the number of hiccups along the way. The race does not require much canoeing experience and is a great event for pals, parents and children, siblings and, perhaps most of all, husbands and wives. This year, Steve and Cheryl Welch, a husband-wife duo from Chadron, claimed top honors among 10 entries. Chris and Julie Garrett, who farm west of Chadron, have won eight of the last 11 years but were not able to race this year because of family commitments.

Steve and Cheryl Welch, 2017 winners
Steve and Cheryl Welch of Chadron embark on their winning lap against runners-up Kyler Ranta of Rapid City, S.D., and Wade Waugh of Chadron. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Bart and I did not quite win that day in 1997, but we sure had a blast trying. Little did I know then that I would later become a member of Chadron Kiwanis, the Regatta’s sponsor, and wind up being an event organizer. I also love photographing the racers, and cannot seem to resist getting in the canoe. This year, fellow Kiwanian Jennifer Brown and I gave it a good go but did not quite make the finals.

Justin and Sawyer Haag
Sawyer and I after managing a win in 2015.

From what I can tell by the dates engraved on the trophy, this marked the 29th year of the Regatta splashing its way into people’s memories. A favorite father-son moment of mine is from 2015, when Sawyer and I, with the Garretts not in attendance, managed to claim the title. (Thanks, Garretts.)

If you are near Chadron State Park when Fur Trade Days rolls around next summer, recruit a partner and board a canoe for a wild ride around the park’s normally serene lagoon. Just be sure to wear something that you don’t mind getting wet.

Chris and Julie Garrett, who have won the Regatta eight of the past 11 races, pose with their daughters, Jayden, Kylee and Jaycee after the 2016 event. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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