By Jim Sullivan
---- — Over 30 adventurous souls took to the waters of Amesbury's Lake Gardner Saturday both canoeing and searching for treasure in the first annual Lake Gardner Canoe-O, an effort to foster stewardship of the lake.
“I would describe it as an Easter egg hunt where we tell you where the Easter eggs are,” said race director Shawn Burke of the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association (NECKRA).
Burke designed the scavenger-hunt style course, looking to satisfy the dual purpose of bringing people to the lake and giving them an interesting course with goals to achieve on land and water. Three courses were set up: short, medium and long.
“There is the paddling part, and then there is the problem-solving part,” said Burke, who came up from Andover. “We present you with a map, showing the locations that you go to, and you have to figure out the best route through them that would get you through in the shortest amount of time.”
Racers also had to find controls along the way to complete their course.
“I’ve been here before for races,” said Burke. “But they were too small to draw people from outside the area. So, really what the Lake Gardner people were looking at is focusing on the local area. There’s a really interesting geography to it.”
The Lake Gardner Improvement Association’s Bruce Georgian had been running canoe races for the past few years, but wanted to attract more people to his home town this time around.
“People tell me, they found Amesbury,” said Georgian. “They go through the downtown because you can’t just fall off the highway to get here. They go to the winery, they go to Flatbreads, they go to the shops downtown and they love it. This is really nice. So it helps the town for those reasons.”\
Given the NECKRA connection, racers came from as far as Madison, Conn., as well as Cromwell, Conn., Manchester, N.H., and Massachusetts towns like Tewksbury, Reading, Andover, Charlton, Douglas, Natick and Franklin, earning championship points toward their season tallies.
“We’re looking to have people enjoy and to want to preserve and protect the lake,” said Georgian. “We like to introduce people to the sport. Every year, someone comes and discovers orienteering or canoe racing and loves it.”
Racers were handed a map to start, then time started from there, so a strategy needed to be drawn up while they began paddling.
The youngest racer, Conrad Georgian, 3, of Amesbury was looking forward to hitting the lake with his dad, Mark.
“He’s been in the boat many times, but we’ve never done any sort of orienteering or canoeing,” said Mark. “It’s going to be a good time.”
Tewksbury’s Maureen Keddie, 27, and Kristina Smith, 29, of Reading where the first to complete the short route.
“This was a lot of fun, figuring out how to find all those controls on the water,” said Keddie. “It was a little but easier than I thought it would be. It turns out finding controls on a lake is a lot easier than finding controls on land. Because you can use the curves in the lake and find yourselves on the map really easily.”
“It’s very peaceful,” Smith said of Lake Gardner.
Michael Lewis, 27, of Cromwell, Conn., was on his eighth race of the season along with partner Carrie Curtis, 26 of Madison, Conn., who was on her first. Their partnership resulted in the first to complete for the medium course.
“He splashed me a couple times,” Curtis said of Lewis. “I liked the (orienteering). It was fun to get out of the boat and do a little exploring.”
Jamie Doucette, 59 of Andover was first to complete the long course and does six to seven canoe races a season.
“It was hot but it was fun to do it,” said Doucette. “It’s kind of weedy out there on the other side but it was fine. This is good because there are some trails up there with all the controls so you have to get out of your boat.”