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Community makes a splash at Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A participant takes on the rapids of the Clackamas River during the oar boat slalom at the 2016 Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival.More than 400 people participated or watched the 33rd Annual Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival at the Carter Bridge recreation area Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15.

“It was a really fun time,” said festival co-chairman Luke Spencer. “Overall, it had a really good feel to it.”

The event gave whitewater enthusiasts the opportunity to showcase their skills in a series of raft, kayak and stand up paddle board competitions.

Overcast skies and rain didn’t deter the 150 people who participated in the festival’s competitive events.

Spencer said rain is typical for the weekend of the festival.

“We’re thinking of making our new slogan ‘You don’t even have to go into the water to get wet',” he joked.

The festival was started by the Northwest Rafters Association in 1984. This year’s event featured numerous volunteers from the community, including the Timberlake Job Corps and local Boy Scout troops.

Volunteers said the community element is the best part of the festival. Although the event draws new faces every year, some participants have been involved for years.

“It’s like a family reunion,” said Greg Babikoff, who participated in an inflatable kayak event. “It’s great to come out and see friends.”

For brothers Ben and Casey Box and their father, Marq, the event was an opportunity to rekindle old family traditions.The trio participated in the festival when Ben and Casey were children but hadn’t been for 20 years when they returned this year.

“I used to have to be the bailer when I was younger, because this was before rafts had automatic bailers,” Ben Box recalled. “I was in charge of keeping all of the water out of our raft.”

The Boxes were glad to be back at the festival.

“It’s a great chance to get outdoors and play by the river,” said Casey Box. “And it’s great seeing old friends. We’re excited to get back on the water.”

Dave Elliott, who has been the festival’s announcer for 29 years, enjoys seeing familiar faces and meeting new people.

“Every year a lot of the same people help out with the same tasks, but new people help out every year too,” he said.

Elliott's favorite part of the event is seeing all of the people he’s met over the years. He says he's seen many of the event's participants grow up over the years while they've participated in the festival.

“I’ve known some of the rafters for over 20 years,” he said. “I’ve watched them grow into some of the best rafters in the world.”

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