SKOWHEGAN — People came from near and far Saturday to enjoy the hot summer weather and weekend offerings at River Fest.
The annual event is meant to draw attention to Skowhegan’s downtown riverfront, the site of the River Park project, which is expected to offer a variety of activities for boaters, kayakers, surfers and tubers.
Rick and Barb Ferguson came from their home in Connecticut to slow down and enjoy the festival. They were waiting Saturday for the kayak and raft rides down through the Kennebec River gorge with Skowhegan Outdoors.
“We heard they were having a festival, I thought that would be so cute — it’s like a little Norman Rockwell town, and there were bed races and all that kind of stuff — so we came out to see it,” said Barb Ferguson.
They said they really liked the glow stick paddle event Thursday evening, where canoes and kayaks were lit up with glow sticks for an evening outing, and were looking forward to the fireworks Saturday night.
They’d also stopped by several of the events earlier in the week, and enjoyed the variety of events and live music, especially the Friday bed races during Moonlight Madness.
A major highlight of the annual event, the bed races involve teams of five people, four pushing a bed on caster wheels down the course, and one person riding on the bed. A decadeslong tradition, the race this year had added stakes as Central Maine Septic sponsored a $500 cash prize.
In addition to the river activities, Skowhegan Parks and Recreation planned kids activities Sunday morning, including a watermelon eating contest and a rock climbing wall.
Sterling Weese lives in Madison, but grew up in Skowhegan, and was enjoying the chance to bring her two daughters back to her hometown. The girls were big fans of the climbing wall, which they were familiar with from camp at the community center, Weese said. She appreciated the festival as an opportunity to help bring the community together.
“We were raised here, born here, so we always come to these things,” Weese said.
Several vendors set up shop Saturday offering a variety of home décor, jewelry and even offering to help people sign up to vote.
The weekly summer farmer’s market was held Saturday in conjunction with River Fest, and the event helped increase foot traffic for the local vendors. Zoe Lambke runs the Maine Grains booth every week and said there were more people than normal Saturday morning. The booth had sold out of several items, and was down to its final offerings by noon.
“There was a huge wave of people and I’ve seen a lot of new faces today,” Lambke said.
Amanda Stetson of Skowhegan was there with her 9-year-old son, who was scaling the climbing wall. They had gone to Moonlight Madness on Friday night, but hadn’t realized there would be activities Saturday, too. Stetson said she tries to go to the farmer’s market every week, so when she saw the kids’ activities they headed over.
The festival felt especially sweet this year, as it comes on the heels of the announcement that the River Park project has been awarded almost $5 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce, said organizer Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.
“This is a project that has been at least 20 years in the making and having the ability to go public with this news right at the beginning of River Fest has been amazing,” Cannon said.
The project has been in the works for 20 years, so this funding is a big step in the project moving forward, Cannon said. The project will include the only adjustable wave on the Kennebec and a riverfront promenade. Project organizers will have a design firm come out to the area Aug. 22-24, and are asking residents to come by to offer feedback on what they would like the riverfront area to look like.