CLAUDVILLE, Va. — The venue for the Kibler Valley River Run is officially called the headwaters of the Dan River, but sections of the course have more-colorful names: Basketball Falls, Public Enemy No. 1 and Powerhouse Rapids among them.
After all, that’s what happens when the normally tranquil trout-fishing stream near Claudville in Patrick County is transformed into a canoeing and kayaking wonderland, courtesy of a hydroelectric plant there which cranks up extra velocity for the annual run.
“We’ve never had a time when we weren’t able to get the right water flow,” Tom Bishop, a longtime member of the sponsoring Red Bank Ruritan Club, said of the gathering now in its 33rd year.
“There’s no other such event in this area,” Bishop added of the run that takes place in Kibler Valley, a picturesque area located off Route 773 between Ararat and Claudville not far from Mount Airy. This year’s river race, a key community fund-raising activity, is scheduled for July 25, with Aug. 1 as a rain date.
It offers opportunities for serious competition, including more than 30 levels in canoe, kayak and inflatable ducky categories, for which registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at a cost of $25 per entrant.
But at the same time, the Kibler Valley River Run is a spectator-oriented event in which people simply come out to watch the various flotation devices go by on a colorful 11.5-mile journey along the Dan River. Onlookers are welcome and parking is free.
“It’s pretty crowded up and down the road there,” Bishop said of Route 648 (Kibler Valley Road), which follows most of the run. Spectators also choose observation points on the several bridges under which the river passes.
Some attendees camp out along the route and take advantage of the swift current to enjoy free tubing and swimming.
“We always have a lot of people from Mount Airy and Martinsville, the two biggest cities nearby,” Bishop said.
“There is also a good number from Blacksburg, the VPI (Virginia Tech) area, Raleigh and Durham — those college folks seem to be really into the event,” he said, which includes “some good athletes.” In addition, various paddling clubs in the region pencil in the Kibler Valley River Run on their calendars each year.
“We get a good water flow and they really want to be there and be part of that event,” Bishop said, praising the cooperation of the city of Danville about 80 miles away, owner of the hydroelectric plant.
Under optimum conditions, the run will draw up 250 different competitors. One can take as many runs as he or she desires and enter multiple competition classes.
Boats are released at intervals right outside the hydroelectric plant and times are calculated at the end of the course.
A shuttle service is available to take participants back to their starting points.
Ruritan Club President Roger Gammons pointed to the key ingredients that have made the Kibler Valley River Run popular for decades.
“I think it’s a tribute to the canoeists and kayakers who race,” Gammons said. “We provide a good atmosphere for them and accommodations for them. They know that we are really sincere about making it a good event for them — I think that’s why it’s been around for 30-some years.”
Many have been participating for much of that time. “It’s an event for all ages,” Gammons said, including competitors in the teens to the 60s.
The run also attracts newcomers each July, which included a man from Switzerland two years ago. “I get emails from everywhere from people who’ve never been here who want to come,” Gammons said.
Concessions will be available on race day, including hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, desserts and drinks.
The Red Bank Ruritan Club has about 25 members, virtually all of whom are expected to be pressed into service for some aspect of the river run, along with volunteers who assist.
“That’s what it takes,” Gammons said, “all of our people coming together to put it on.”
The river run is the biggest annual fundraiser for the Ruritan Club, “and has been for years,” its president says, serving as an important source of revenue for a variety of community activities.
“We have different projects that we use the funds for,” Bishop said, including assistance for cancer patients, needy families, special events, contributions to facilities such as Brenner Children’s Hospital and more.
The goal each year is to clear $4,000-plus which comes from advertising sales for a special run publication in addition to the entry fees and concessions. Gammons mentioned that a number of businesses in Mount Airy are sponsors of the run.
A side attraction is the photographic opportunity associated with the event, which Bishop said has produced some amazing video footage of canoes and kayaks maneuvering through the rapids over the years against a scenic backdrop of the remote valley.
“It’s a wonderful little place.”
From Mount Airy, Kibler Valley can be reached by taking N.C. 104 (Riverside Drive) into Virginia, which becomes Route 773 (Ararat Highway) at the state line, and turning left onto Kibler Valley Road (Route 648) while heading toward Claudville.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.