Claire Sipple, chairwoman for the second annual River Blast, grins when she talks about last year's inaugural event at Fort Boonesborogh State Park in Madison County.
"It was like a functional family reunion where everybody was smiling and laughing and happy," Sipple says.
Hoping to repeat and build upon that success, River Blast returns Saturday to Fort Boonesborough.
Last year's event drew about 5,000 people, says Rob Rumpke, director of Bluegrass Tomorrow, a regional planning organization that receives money from the fest. (The Kentucky Riverkeeper organization also benefits from the event.)
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"It was above and beyond our wildest expectations," Rumpke says.
The purpose of River Blast is to reintroduce residents to the source of water of many Central Kentucky communities, and to encourage more river recreation.
"It's a resource in our backyard that's been forgotten," says Sipple, chairwoman of the Kentucky River Authority, the state organization that operates the locks and dams on the river.
Saturday's event starts at 8 a.m. with a 21-mile paddling race from Boonesborough to Valley View. They're calling it the "Race Between the Locks." At noon, a 6-mile "fun paddle" will run from Boonesborough to Clays Ferry.
Also at noon, the festival officially opens at Shelter No. 1 on Boonesborough Beach. There will be a car show with vintage vehicles and hot rods, festival foods, inflatables, arts and crafts vendors, and live stage entertainment. Beginning at 6 p.m., a bonfire will be on the beach.
Musical entertainment this year starts with the Bent Penny Band (they play everything from Eric Clapton to the Eagles to Elvis) from 3 to 5 p.m.
Then, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Dublove Reggae Band will perform.
From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., the Swing Street Band will play. The six-member band features four different lead vocalists and it plays dance hits from the past and present.
Finally, at 9:30 p.m., there will be a fireworks show.
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.
The alliance has had success in developing "portages" or safe trails to carry canoes and kayaks around locks and dams on the river.
There are other signs of more recreation coming to the river.
After years of restricted access, Lock Nos. 1 through 4 reopened to weekend boating traffic on Memorial Day weekend, and Frankfort held its own River Blast event in late June to mark the occasion.
On July 24, Rockin' Thunder Jet Boat Rides provided a passenger boat service from Madison, Ind., to Frankfort, thanks to the reopened locks. The 155-mile round trip took two days.
As for Boonesborough beach, state officials closed it to swimming years ago because human and animal sewage contaminated the water and caused dangerous levels of bacteria.
But Rumpke and Sipple say there are discussions about reopening the beach on a limited basis, perhaps on a few select weekends. Sipple took water samples recently for testing, but probably will take new samples once the river has gone down from recent high-water levels. To reopen the beach would mean finding certified lifeguards and overcoming some liability issues.
"We are exploring all of that. I think there is support in Frankfort. I think there is support in Boonesborough," Rumpke says.
"I think deep down, a lot of people want to see the river returned for recreation. They remember the good old days of going to the Boonesborough beach."