East Coast River Relay Launches from Calais

Organizers and participants in the East Coast River Relay left from Calais on August 24th, beginning a 3,000 mile journey spanning all the way to Key West, Florida along the East Coast Greenway. The relay was organized in partnership with the Schoodic Riverkeepers of the Passamaquoddy tribe. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


On Thursday, August 24th, Calais was the site of the kickoff event of the East Coast River Relay, a 68-day event that spans between Maine and Key West, Florida, along the East Coast Greenway. Along the way, the relay participants will stop and take part in more than 60 events based around the theme of sharing healthy waterways, being active and celebrating local culture. By the end of the relay, organizers are anticipating a total of 10,000 participants to have joined in on one portion of the Greenway or another. In Calais, the kickoff event was held in partnership with the Schoodic Riverkeepers of the Passamaquoddy tribe.

One of the major goals of the River Relay was to demonstrate that, like rivers, the East Coast Greenway is not bound by state or municipal lines. While the Greenway as we know it extends along the relatively rural Calais waterfront, the same trail eventually passes through some of the largest cities on the East Coast. 

“I see the potential that the Greenway has to be culturally inclusive of all kinds of people,” said Niles Barnes, Director of Greenway Programs. He added that the Greenway encourages its communities to develop and reinforce an environmental ethic, and explained that it contributes to local economies as well. 

The River Relay in particular is significant because of the Greenway’s choice to focus on the “water is life” movement and its deliberate effort to learn more about living in harmony with nature. Greenway organizers have aligned with local river custodians such as the Schoodic Riverkeepers to fully cultivate this perspective. Chief Hugh Akagi of the Passamaquoddy tribe spoke to this mentality during the event. “The river is everything to us,” Chief Akagi said. “My DNA here goes back 13,000 years. I am the end-product of that river. This is what defines me.”

A sage blessing ceremony was performed by Denise Altavater to wish the participants in the relay a safe journey. While the Passamaquoddy youth that were originally planned to join in the send-off were unable to attend due to a funeral within the tribe, they made gifts from tobacco to be used by the riders as medicine during their trip. 

The waters from the 50 rivers that the Greenway connects with and travels along will be collected by participants during the journey. At each stop, the waters will be combined together before being symbolically released in unison in the Gulf of Mexico on October 30th when the relay officially ends.