By Rich Place

A year after participants at the annual Great Valley Regatta were not permitted to put their crafts in the creek due to an unusually high water level, officials said this year’s event is down about 500 contestants.

Mark Ward, assistant fire chief at the Great Valley Volunteer Company that organizes the event, said it’s possible last year’s experience — coupled with this year’s chilly and sometimes snowy April — reduced registrants.

The 44th annual Great Valley Regatta takes place this weekend, with crafts scheduled to take to the Great Valley Creek from Klawitter Road in Great Valley to Route 417 in Kill Buck.

“It’s hard to know exactly” why there are less participants, Ward said. “Last year we didn’t run it because the weather was awful. Probably the fact we didn’t run it last year probably impacted some people.”

The cancellation last year of the regatta itself was the first in the event’s history. Hearty campers who braved the weather throughout the weekend had muddy experiences as more than an inch of rain fell the morning the regatta was scheduled.

“A lot of people started to bring in more elaborate campers,” Ward said about recent years. “The old days they were in pup tents or they slept on the ground. We have transitioned to, you might say, more elaborate facilities where people aren’t roughing it so bad.

“Last year we had to pull them in and pull them out,” he continued. “That’s how wet and miserable that was. There could be some people who said ‘maybe this isn’t worth it’ or ‘we might take the year off from coming down.’”

Although the participation level is down from the more than 2,000 last year, there’s still plenty who are expected to take to the water. Not much has changed compared to past years, although campers will notice a new pavilion at the main campground for regatta staff, Ward said.

On Saturday morning, regatta participants will float down the Great Valley Creek beginning at the campgrounds on Klawitter Road. They’ll encounter a handful of pit stops and end at the bridge that carries Route 417 over the creek near Kill Buck.

That’s been the course for about a decade. For years, the course ended at Masonic Park in west Salamanca after participants would navigate from the Great Valley Creek to the Allegheny River.

Now the regatta isn’t a competitive race but is more of a weekend-long party that includes a trip down the creek. This year’s theme is Cinco de Mayo, according to the regatta’s website, and it’s expected many boats will be decked out with Mexican-inspired decorations.

Ward said the creek is in “good shape” and regatta officials spent time in April navigating the course and trimming any trees that could be a hazard to participants.

“Every year it changes just a little bit,” he said.

The regatta is the largest fundraising event for the Great Valley Volunteer Fire Company, which most recently used about $40,000 of the money to pay for hose and loose equipment on the department’s new pumper truck.

A future potential project from regatta proceeds is to renovate the exterior of the department’s clubhouse, Ward said. The project has not yet been finalized but could take place in the next couple years.

“We hope to be in good enough shape to be able to do it in phases,” he said. “That’s the next big project.”

Ward also noted the fire department will examine the registration process during the offseason, including potentially extending registration. He said this year it closed about three weeks before the event.

“Personally, I’m not convinced we can’t run it close to the 11th hour as long as we have room,” he said.