AuSable River Festival features some successes, some cancellations

H.U.P. Race and Paddle Battle cancelled because of low participation numbers, some events rained out Saturday, but other events able to thrive
The 2021 AuSable River Festival was very successful in some events with strong overall numbers, but other events were cancelled due to weather conditions or lack of participation.
The 35th Annual Classic Car & Truck Show helped kick off the AuSable River Festival on Saturday, July 17, and event organizers reported near-record participation.
Traci Cook, Executive Director of the Grayling Regional Chamber of Commerce, said this year’s car show had at least 142 entries, one of the highest totals in recent years.
“It went well,” Cook said.
The Chamber of Commerce announced weeks ago that this year would be its last as organizer of the car show. 
“This is our last year doing it,” Cook said.
Cook said Chamber of Commerce officials have talked to a few people about possibly taking it over, but they do not have a commitment yet. Chamber officials are hoping a person or a group with knowledge of classic cars can “take the car show to the level it can go to,” possibly using it as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization.
Anyone interested in possibly taking over the car show can contact the Grayling Regional Chamber of Commerce at 989.348.2921.
The Spike’s Challenge canoe races – held on July 17 and 18 – brought canoe racing back to Grayling after last year’s events were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The C-1 race on Saturday, July 17, featured a near-record field with 67 paddlers, and the C-2 race on Sunday, July 18, featured good numbers with 76 teams.
Cook said Kid’s Day on Tuesday, July 20, featured a trick or treating theme and several local businesses and organizations offered activities and free food for participants. Cook said the event usually has 500 to 600 people but numbers were higher this year.
“It was a great day, perfect weather,” Cook said. “We had a lot more people coming out being one of the first events of the week.”
The H.U.P. Race – an annual event that features representatives from local businesses and groups racing a short looped course at the city park in homemade canoes – was cancelled this year due to lack of teams.
Cook said the lack of participation was due to businesses being busy and short-staffed.
“We’re planning to bring it back next year,” Cook said.
Performances on the AuSable Mainstage – live music and other entertainment – proceeded on Thursday and Friday but some were cancelled on Saturday due to heavy rain. Performances resumed late Saturday afternoon after the rain subsided.
Grayling Recreation Authority conducted its annual 10K/5K foot race at Hanson Hills Recreation Area despite the inclement weather, and the event had strong overall numbers with 166 runners. It rained during the start of the races, and the rain intensified as the runners started to reach the finish line.
“I’m happy that we were able to hold it. I did not want to cancel it. I didn’t want to postpone it,” said Justin Andre, Director of Operations for Grayling Recreation Authority. “It’s raining and a little bit of thunder but all these guys showed up to support the (AuSable) River Festival and our event here, so we’re excited about that.”
The Grayling Main Street Paddle Battle – slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 24 – was cancelled earlier in the week due to lack of registered participants.
The AuSable River Festival Parade – scheduled for Saturday, July 24, at 5 p.m. with a new route along the Business Loop – ended up being cancelled on the day of the event due to the possibility of more inclement weather. 
The rain in downtown Grayling stopped for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon but started again at approximately 3:45 p.m. Cell phone users received an “Extreme Alerts” text message at 3:50 p.m. advising people to “seek immediate shelter in any downtown business” and “remain inside for approximately the next 45 minutes, pea sized hail and 40 mph winds gust is expected.”
The weather also hindered the 2021 Arts & Crafts Show. Vendor numbers were down this year, according to Chamber of Commerce officials, and some of the ones that were here had to close because of the heavy rain.
“We were way down,” Cook said. “We typically have a little over 100. We ended up with about 55.”
Cook said some of the vendors that withstood the weather and opened back up late Saturday afternoon reported solid sales numbers.
“They had a really good Saturday once everything opened back up,” Cook said.
Chamber of Commerce officials said they had difficulty lining up vendors for this year’s AuSable River Festival Food Court, in part because of festivals being held in other areas. The Food Court featured only a few vendors this year.
“We just couldn’t get anybody,” Cook said.
The rain may have hampered some AuSable River Festival events and caused a few cancellations, but the extra water seemed to help the AuSable River Canoe Marathon competitors on Saturday and Sunday, allowing for faster times. The winners of the event – Jorden Wakeley of Grayling and Matt Meersman of South Bend, Indiana – broke the Marathon’s all-time record for best finish time. Wakeley and Meersman finished this year’s Marathon in 13:54:09, beating the old record of 13:58:08 (Serge Corbin and Solomon Carrière, 1994) by approximately four minutes. The 1994 Marathon also featured high water levels, according to Crawford County Avalanche coverage.
“What a race,” said Phil Weiler of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon Committee. “It was quite clear early with the rains where the river was going to be. The boys saw the opportunity and they raced a good race and they raced a smart race. I give them credit. They finished strong. It was incredible. What a great show. Great two to be champs.”
Weiler said organizers had discussions with local emergency management officials and had plans in place to delay the start of the race if necessary due to extreme weather.
“We talked it out. We had a plan,” Weiler said.
Weiler said they were keeping track of the weather forecast and saw that by 6:30 p.m. it was just supposed to be windy and by 8 p.m. the weather was supposed to be fine, so they were able to “relax” and be “good to go.”
The weather did end up clearing up for the start of the Marathon, and the starting area at the Old AuSable Fly Shop and other viewing areas in town were filled with spectators.
“It was packed. They were crazy and enthusiastic,” Weiler said. “Everybody was glad to be back, glad to be doing something normal in Grayling in July.”
While the rain may have helped the AuSable Marathon, Weiler said he felt bad that the weather hampered other events during this year’s AuSable River Festival. 
“Sorry for what it did to the festival and downtown, because they were waiting for a year too,” Weiler said.
Cook said this year’s AuSable River Festival had several successful events despite Saturday’s rain and the festival had a lot of support from the community.
“We want to thank all of our sponsors and our volunteers, and the community for coming to the events,” Cook said.

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806

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