Riding the Savage River

November 16, 1990

Next year, Western Maryland will pass up the popular white-water canoe and kayak races which have helped boost the region's depressed economy. The decision, forced by a lack of state and private funds, may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The mighty Savage River, site of previous national and international events, is being boosted instead for trial competition for those who seek places on the 1992 U.S. Olympic white-water racing team.

That is a creative response to the loss next year of canoe and kayak events. Make no mistake, Western Maryland will miss its white-water sports in 1991. But if the Savage River becomes a proving ground for U.S. Olympians two years hence, local and state leaders must plan ahead and gain commitments.

To understand the importance of white-water canoeing on the Savage, consider the 1989 three-day schedule when 20 countries competed in the World White-Water Championships. The estimated gain for the region was $10 million, according to state Sen. John Bambacus, R-Allegany, president of the World Championship, Inc., which still owes some businesses approximately $10,000 for their participation.

The 1992 Olympic trials present an opportunity, but it will take considerable work to bring the event to Western Maryland. Given the dark economic clouds now settling over much of the state, that won't be easy. State and local governments should try to get quick affirmation of Savage River as the site for the white-water tryouts.

Last year, when state, local and private backers worked together on the championships, they discovered the popularity -- and profitability -- of world-class canoeing. Then 600 paddlers competed before 40,000 spectators in a week-long series of events. The Savage River was never more breathtaking. It has become one of the world's five white-water World Cup tournament sites. Some say it is the best. Garrett and Allegany counties, with state economic support, will have to work to retain that reputation.

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