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Picture 10 canoes stretched across the Erie Canal. Add cheers from hundreds of friends and families watching from the footpaths and you have the Niagara County Girl Scouts' 29th annual "Skills and Chills" kickoff canoe race taking place today at Camp Margaret Castle.

The canoe race, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Day Road Bridge, has been known to cause weekend boater back-up behind it.

The race is the first event in "Skills and Chills," an annual weekend-long competition between Girl Scouts of the Cadette and Senior levels. The weekend competition will be held Friday, Saturday and Oct. 3 at Zoar Valley Resident Camp in Cattaraugus.

"Right now, we have about 102 girls signed up," said Kathy Dewey, director of camping services of the Niagara County Council of Girl Scouts.

"Saturday is the big competition day," said Dewey. On Saturday, 102 girls from 12 troops around the county will compete in a variety of camping skills.

They include:

Tent Pitching and Striking, where the girls will be judged on the correct placement of parts, proper alignment, setting up the tent and the cleaning and folding of equipment, all as quickly as possible.

Two-Girl Saw and One-Girl Bow Saw, in which teams of girls be judged on method, teamwork, body position, techniques and safety procedures.

The girls will also compete in compass-reading, knot-tying, lashing, fire-making, identification of trail signs and articles from nature, and answer questions on basic first aid.

Along with camping skills, the girls will compete in field events, including relay races, standing long jump, softball throw, bean bag toss and every Girl Scout's favorite, the Cookie Box Stack, in which girls compete to build the tallest tower with empty Girl Scout Cookie boxes.

Skills and Chills, which took its name from its competitions in the brisk fall weather, is always a successful program locally. But it takes on national importance this year.

Laura Wojcieszek, director of public relations for the Niagara County Council of Girl Scouts, said on Skills and Chills day, the attention of the scouting world will shift to Niagara County.

It's part of the "GirlSports 2000" program, a series of sporting events conducted by Girl Scout troops across the United States on every day of 1999.

The program, sponsored by Girl Scouts USA and Advantage International, is designed to challenge girls and adult leaders to participate in sports regardless of age or skill level.

"The girls are very excited about that," said Dewey. "The girls' motto would be they can do anything boys can do."

Dewey said the Skills and Chills event could not get off the ground without volunteer help. "It's been run by volunteers and that group of people have been working on this all year long and will be down there this weekend setting up. They put a lot of time and energy into it," she said.

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