WOONSOCKET — Barbara Dixon will never forget the first-ever Blackstone River Valley Greenway Challenge, held in late September of 2001.
In fact, she and other organizers questioned whether they'd be able to take care of the logistics in time.
“This is how bizarre it was that first year,” noted Dixon, who works closely with the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, located at the old train station near Main Street.
“We were sitting here the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 planning the event, then we received word the (Twin) Towers in Manhattan had collapsed. Because this is a federal building, we all had to evacuate right away.
“We didn't know what to do, but we all ended up at my house to finish with the details, and – of course – we had the TV on so we could learn more about what happened,” she added. “That September, we didn't know if we could pull it off, but, thankfully, it came to fruition.”
She indicated 242 individuals set out on a 50-plus mile tour of the Valley, utilizing canoes, bikes and their legs to do so.
When asked how that initial outing turned out, Dixon, laughing, responded, “It went pretty well. I mean, we've been here 12 years, and we're still doing the same thing.”
The 12th annual Greenway Challenge has been slated for Saturday, Sept. 29, and it will begin precisely at 9 a.m. at the Diamond Hill State Park pond in Cumberland. The finish – not to mention the awards ceremonies – will occur at River Bend Farm, 287 Oak St., Uxbridge.
Race officials have chosen the Gov. Aram J. Pothier Elementary School in Woonsocket as the 2012 Charitable Recipient, and it will receive a $2,500 donation from all proceeds.
The reason: Through its science and health curriculum, the school – which serves 500 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade – teaches the importance of environmental awareness and education, protecting the environment and local wildlife, the value it plays in their everyday lives and the recreational opportunities here in the community and the larger Valley region.
School-wide initiatives such as recycling, family health fairs and “Walk to School” days reinforce those lessons.
“That first year, we had 242; this year, we'll have over 1,000 attendees standing there at the finish line,” she stated. “They'll include volunteers, course officials, etc., and we're expecting between 450-500 athletes to compete.
“Canoes were the primary source of paddling the river and other tributaries back then; there were just a few kayakers,” she continued. “Today, everybody brings really high-tech kayaks. To see a canoe or two nowadays is pretty unusual.
“We weren't as organized that first year; in fact, we didn't have a brochure until 2002. We just got the word out, and we had people signing up from Worcester all the way down to Slater Mill in Pawtucket.
“This event has changed so much, and it's because we have so much more technology now. People can actually see us, or respond to us, on Facebook, or they can 'Twitter' or 'Google' us.”
As always, competitors – those who want to participate as part of a team or by their lonesomes – will partake in a brand new race course this fall.
“We design a new course every year; it's never the same,” Dixon said. “The purpose is to bring other recreational opportunities to the public and to introduce them to new places, sites they may not have seen previously.
“We like to use different historical sites, so – this time – we've highlighted Diamond Hill State Park. We're working very closely with Mike Crawley, the director of the Cumberland Parks & Recreation Department.”
Dixon explained the event was created in partnership with the state representative of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.
“Back in 2001, when the bike path construction was just getting started in Rhode Island, the alliance designated the bikeway to be an official spur, or route, to the East Coast Greenway from Florida all the way up to Maine,” she offered. “The federal commission wanted to build advocacy for the bikeway, and bring more awareness to the recreational opportunities here. They tasked me to work with Sue Barker to create an event to accomplish those objectives, so here we are.
“This isn't a true triathlon; it instead is an adventure race. Our moniker is 'An adventure race … like no other.”
Last September, the course started at the Lincoln Woods State Park grove in Lincoln, and closed about 56.2 miles later at Wallum Lake in the Douglas State Forest. It included, leg by leg, a 5.5-mile run; a 2.62-mile paddle; a 19.5-mile bike ride; a six-mile run; a 2.6-mile paddle; a 14-mile bike ride; a 3.05-mile cross-country run; and, finally, a 2.9-mile paddle on flat water to the Wallum Lake beach.
The team from the Great Canadian Canoe & Kayak Co. of Sutton, Mass. captured that race, just as it had for the first nine years before losing the title in 2010. The individual male champion, or Ironman, went to Josh Flanagan of Cohasset.
Dixon noted this fall's event will begin with a 1.8-mile run up the abandoned trails to the summit of Diamond Hill State Park (participants will use a portion of the existing Watney Trail); then will move to an exit on the park's northwest side.
Competitors then will transition to a mountain bike jaunt for 5.1 miles over Tower Hill.
“The rest of the course is a secret,” Dixon grinned. “It won't be known until Wednesday, Sept. 12, when there's a Captain's Meeting right here (at the commission in Woonsocket at 7 p.m.).”
There's another meeting scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Millbury (Mass.) Credit Union, 50 Main St. The Friday night before the race, a festivities event will be held at the Whitin Community Center, 60 Main St., in Whitinsville.
Dixon did mention the course also will include, in order after the bike trek up and over Tower Hill, a five-mile run, a three-mile paddle, a 22-mile bike ride, a four-mile cross-country run and a four-mile paddle. The entire race is estimated at 45.5 miles.
“We keep it a secret so people will be surprised and awed at all of the natural beauty,” Dixon stated. “This way, knowing the disciplined involved, they can start putting their teams together.”
Among the race divisions: Championship level (for those hard-core competitiors); Corporate Cup (for teams composed entirely of co-workers from the same organization); All-Women; The Masters (all members must be 50 or older); Recreational teams (comprised of no more than nine members in any combination of men, women or youths ages 16 and above); and Ironman/Ironwoman (those who wish to attempt to complete the entire trek with the aid of just one “support” person.
The awards ceremony is expected to begin at about 4 p.m., with a raffle taking place afterward.
There's still time to register, as the deadline for receiving registration forms, fees, photography releases and waiver forms isn't until Saturday, Sept. 1. (Late fees will apply if received after Sept. 1).
Registration fee is $60 per participant, and teams may consist of two to nine members, though, Dixon said, most comprise four to five.
For more information, or to register, visit www.greenwaychallenge.org . or call Dixon at (401) 762-0250 (ext. 5503). Folks also may e-mail Barbara_Dixon@nps.gov .