Think of it as a party with a purpose: Reintroducing people to the Kentucky River is the aim of Saturday's inaugural River Blast.
"The whole concept is bringing the masses, bringing the public, to the resource," said Rob Rumpke, director of Bluegrass Tomorrow, a regional planning organization. "We want to encourage all kinds of river recreation. As more people are aware of the resource, the more they want to protect it. So we want to get people onto the water, on canoes and kayaks and watercraft."
Saturday's River Blast event at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Madison County begins at 8 a.m. with a 21-mile paddling race from the park to Valley View. At noon, a 6-mile "fun paddle" will run from Boonesborough to Clays Ferry. Canoes will be provided if you don't have your own boat.
Also at noon is the official opening of the festival. There will be a car show with antique vehicles and hot rods, festival foods and concessions including a beer garden, arts and crafts vendors, and live stage entertainment. From 6 to 10 p.m. there will be a bonfire on the Boonesborough beach.
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Musical entertainment will include a performance by the reggae band Dublove from 4 to 7 p.m. Then, at 7 p.m., a nine-member band called Conch Republic will perform tunes by the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley, Zac Brown and Toby Keith. Prepare to join conga lines and do the limbo to the sounds of steel drums, congas, bongos, sax and guitars.
Finally, at 10 p.m., there will be a fireworks show.
Fort Boonesborough marks the 40th anniversary of the fort this year. River Blast, which will be held rain or shine, is free and open to the public, although a $5 donation is suggested. Proceeds will be split between Bluegrass Tomorrow, which is marking its 25th anniversary, and Kentucky Riverkeeper, an environmental organization that focuses on the Kentucky River.
The festival is organized by the Kentucky River Water Trail Alliance, a group working to create more access to the river for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts. If River Blast's debut is successful, other river communities such as Frankfort, Jessamine County, Irvine and Carrollton have expressed interest in hosting it, Rumpke said.
The idea for River Blast can be traced back to Commerce Lexington's 2005 trip to Providence, R.I. That city found it could bring new life to its urban core by burning large caldrons of wood on the river that runs through the city. The WaterFire festival is now a full-blown series of arts events held on 11 dates through the summer and into the fall.
In the same way, the Kentucky River will become a greater attraction as more parts of the river trail open to pleasure boaters, said Pat Banks, a member of the Kentucky Riverkeeper organization. The Blast harks back to a time when people routinely went to the river for recreation.
"People remember the (Boonesborough) beach during the '50s, '60s, and the '70s as a place that was so popular you could not find a place to put your blanket. There were just hundreds of people every weekend," Banks said.
As more people return to the river, more opportunities for tourism — restaurants, bed and breakfasts, riverside parks — are envisioned,
Banks said. "All of a sudden it's an idea that people can see."