NORTH RIVER - Facing a dramatic decline in spectators for the region's flagship annual event, organizers of the longstanding Hudson River White Water Derby are seeking to reorient the festival that for decades attracted thousands to the region.
In the second year since the town of Johnsburg banned camping at the North Creek Ski Bowl during annual festive weekend, event organizers are trying to redefine the 52-year-old tradition, Derby officials said this week.
"We were concerned about the lack of camping during the derby," event organizer Diana Burns said. "The number of entrants has held steady, but the number of spectators is obviously down."
About 700 spectators attended the canoe and kayak races held this past Saturday, events which years ago drew well over 5,000.
After some residents complained that the derby weekend partying was getting out of control and a town shed was set ablaze during a ski bowl after-party, town officials took action, gutting the derby of one of its primary attractions for spectators - rowdy partying, involving the consumption of alcohol.
"It's not the drinking fest it once was, so less people come," Burns said. "But the people who come to race are not the drinking crowd - they are here for a nice day on the river."
Burns said that the White Water Derby Committee is exploring ideas to re-invent the race and make it relevant in the age of extreme sports and the X-Games.
"We are discussing trying to become a sanctioned event," she said. "That would draw a lot more racers - we are working on it."
The derby currently shares a calendar date with several sanctioned canoe and kayak races in the Northeastern U.S.
But for long-time spectators who have been attending the derby throughout their lives, it just isn't the same since the town cracked down on partying.
"It sure has changed a lot over the years - look at the cars here now. It's a shadow of what it used to be," Johnsburg resident and lifetime event attendee Dick Hornick said. "It used to be a multi-faceted event. The race itself was great, but so was the party atmosphere."
In an effort to bring back some level of the "party atmosphere," event organizers sponsored live music Saturday night at the North Creek Train Station.
As many as 200 revelers attended the show which featured Albany jam-band Raisinhead. However, no camping was allowed and the show ended at 10 p.m. sharp as Warren County sheriffs officers began patrolling the parking lot.
"We need to get the youth involved," Burns said. "This is all about people having fun in the outdoors."