Paddlers get ready to race at the Eyak Lake Paddle Race on July 1, 2023. Photo by Shae Bowman

By Ashley Taylor

Never having organized a community event or a race, the Eyak Lake Paddle Race exceeded my expectations. The rain and wind held off on July 1 and the Cordova community came together to celebrate our beloved Eyak Lake in style. There were 36 paddlers in the two races who impressed us with their costumes, their vessels, and their speed! The crowd of spectators (and dogs) saw folks in ties and dresses, a six-person sparkly interpretation of the salmon life cycle, a narwal, lobster, and Pokémon paddling kayaks, canoes, row boats, and floats across the Lake.

In the 1-mile race, the dynamic duo Taylor Kimbarow and Ryan Casey took first place in the team category, completing the race in 11 minutes and 29 seconds. Right behind them taking first place in the single paddler category was Michael Hand, clocking in at 13 minutes. Speed demon Anita Smyke finished the half-mile timed race in 7 minutes 15 seconds, securing first place. And the triple-threat team Philip Bailey (acting as coxswain), Dashell Adams, and company put their dory to the test and finished their half-mile in 9 minutes, 49 seconds. 

We really appreciate all the folks and organizations who donated their time and supplies to make this event a success. Everyone refueled after the race with barbecue supplies donated by A.C. and cooked up by U.S. Coast Guard grill masters! The Cordova Volunteer Fire Department kept everyone safe on and off the water, the Mavis Island Project and U.S. Forest Service lent extra life jackets, and the Ilanka Cultural Center shared photos and history so we could all learn more about this special place and its original stewards.

Thank you to everyone who came out to race, spectate, and celebrate Eyak Lake. The Copper River Watershed Project and partners are currently working to restore the Eyak Lake Weir, manage invasive plants along the shoreline, and survey spawning beds in the lake for the first time in 13 years. To learn more about these salmon habitat restoration projects, visit the CRWP website at

Ashley Taylor is a geographic information systems (GIS) and data specialist at the Copper River Watershed Project.