Cumberland River challenges kayakers

Photo by David Cole The first annual Cumberland River canoe/kayak race began at the Knox/Bell County line and ended in Thompson Park in Barbourville.
Photo by David Cole
The first annual Cumberland River canoe/kayak race began at the Knox/Bell County line and ended in Thompson Park in Barbourville.


“Cumberland River Blues” music written and performed by Andy Messer

Slideshow photos by David Cole, Monica and Scot Clouse

Barbourville’s Adventure Tourism Committee held its first annual Cumberland River Challenge on Saturday, Oct.4. The event was a 15-mile canoe and kayak race where competitors put in the water at 11 a.m. at the Bell County lineand finished with the last boat crossing the finish line at 3:39 p.m. at Thompson Park in Barbourville.

Nearly 100 people anxiously walked back and forth between the Thompson Park picnic area and the river’s embankment, hoping to get that first glimpse of the racers as they came around the final bend and into view. Nineteen competitors from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky traversed the approximate four-hour trip.
Leading the pack was the team of Bryan Stewart, of Rella, Ky and Mike Lair, of Kings Mills, Ohio.
Stewart has logged thousands of miles on the river and is a former guide for the Rio Grand River.
“This race is a dream come true,” said Stewart, who currently lives in Bell County. “I’m a huge fan of the mountains, and it’s great to see something like this come to Appalachia.”
The two-man team compared the Cumberland River run with the Little Miami River in Ohio.
“This is much more picturesque than the Little Miami,” said Stewart.
“There’s so much more to see on the Cumberland River with its many rock landscapes,” added Lair. “The rapids on this river are a bit more exciting, but it’s still safe. I’d like to see more families out here on the river. The organizers did a great job. I can’t wait to bring my buddies back next year.”
The pair finished the race well ahead of the reset of the competitors, and according to them, that was the plan all along.
“I told Mike if anybody gets close, we’ll just dig in and beat it out of here,” said Stewart.
“Me? I just simply followed orders,” said Lair.
Winners in each of the categories received a custom cherry wood engraved paddle for their efforts. All of the participants received complementary gifts from Barbourville Tourism and the Knox County Health Department, a t-shirt, and a free continental breakfast followed by a barbecue at the end of the race.
Adventure Tourism is currently looking into promoting more events on the Cumberland River in the near future, including hiking and biking trails, camping and RV events.
“This first year event was a manageable size,” said Denise Wainscott, Director of Barbourville Tourism. “We learned what we need to plan for as the event grows, and we’ve learned a lot about what we can improve upon next near. But it was a great first start.”
Wainscott gives credit for the success of this year’s event to all the volunteers who put so many hours into making the event run as smoothly as it did. She also thanked the Knox County EMS for being aboard.
“Everybody was on point,” she said. Thankfully, we didn’t need to use them, but we were ready.”
“This first event was greatly successful,” said Tourism Commissioner Scot Clouse. “We have taken advantage of one of the greatest resources we have here in Knox County. It just goes to show there is more than great fishing along our riverbanks. I can’t wait to see how many new events we can come up with next.”
Winners of the race are as follows:
Grand Champions: Bryan Stewart and Mike Lair
Tandem Canoe
1-Bryan Stewart and Mike Lair
2-Kris Davis and Joshua Lester
3-Dave and Megan Trowbridge
Solo Kayak
1-Rodney Smith
2-Corey Chesnut
3-Zack Jones
Oldest Combined Team Age (103)
Bryan Stewart and Mike Lair
Youngest Combined Team age (68)
Don and Michaela Rose
Oldest Solo Kayak
Rodney Smith
Youngest Solo Kayak
Corey Chesnut
Longest Distance Traveled (345 miles)
Joshua Carnes, Marion, Indiana
Outstanding Participation, Tandem Kayak
Bryce and Emily Haneline