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Every June since 1949, Salida celebrates First in Boating the Arkansas, the nation's oldest festival dedicated to whitewater racing. Besides the main distance race, FIBArk has water events such as kayak slalom, kayak freestyle, rodeo raft, raft sprint, and the Hooligan Race. Riverside Park by the city's historic downtown district is alive with a carnival, arts and crafts, food, a beer tent, music and more. A parade, complete with queen, is not to be missed.
It all began when six boats challenged the 57 miles between Salida and Canon City during the snow run-off from the Continental Divide down the Arkansas. The route traversed treacherous roiling rapids and extremely strong currents caused by the narrow Royal Gorge Canyon. The following year, the race was shortened to 45 miles, ending at Parkdale above the Royal Gorge. Now the race ends at Cotopaxi, 25.7 miles away, and remains the longest race of its kind in the nation.
What do the world-class international racers think of this race of endurance? The following descriptions have all been applied: “whitewater hell,” “the longest, oldest, most prestigious and perhaps the toughest race in North America,” and “the meanest stretch of whitewater in the world.”