RiverFest may have to move downstream a few miles. But it doesnt have to get swept away.
Thursday, IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein told her staff in an email that the university could no longer host the event. Enrollment has dropped 2.3 percent this year, and the budget has to be cut by $4 million.
Irene Walters, IPFWs executive director of university relations and communications, understands the decision – we need to focus more now on the mission of recruiting and retaining students. But shes determined not to let RiverFest die.
Im looking at it as an opportunity, says Walters, who was one of the driving forces behind creation of the June event in 2010.
It started as an effort to rediscover our rivers, she says. Theyre so important to our community as a catalyst for development, fun and recreation.
Even though they may live and work in geographic proximity to the St. Joseph, St. Marys or Maumee rivers, many people here have never had the opportunity to really get to know the rivers.
Thats why the emphasis was on kayak and pontoon rides, free to the public, Walters said. Water conservation and environmental groups worked together to provide an educational side to the day, as well.
The free river fun drew crowds of more than 20,000 to IPFW, showing off the campus as well as spotlighting Fort Waynes rivers.
If the event is to continue, it will have to find a new home and some new backers, though Walters says Steel Dynamics, which has been principal sponsor of the fest, has indicated interest in continuing to help.
Its time to bring the activity downtown, Walters said, noting that downtown development strategy includes emphasis on the rivers.
That leads to thoughts of the Three Rivers Festival, which, despite its name, for some years got away from the concept of linking itself to river-related events.
Three Rivers Executive Director Jack Hammer is proud of the fact that the festival has regenerated some of its focus on the waterways. The 3RF Raft Race returned last summer after 15 years in dry-dock. But he believes that the city also needs a celebration day focused specifically on the rivers.
I know a lot of people worked awfully hard to make (RiverFest) happen, he said. A lot of those people work on both events.
If we in any way can help them, we will.
That seems to jibe with Walters thinking at this point.
When we started RiverFest, my idea was to be part of the Three Rivers Festival.
That didnt work out, but a current of opportunity may be flowing now.
Perhaps RiverFest could move under the umbrella of 3RF and yet maintain its own identity and focus on stimulating interest in river heritage and preservation and giving festival-goers a chance to get onto the waters themselves.
Walters said a group of people concerned about the fests future will be meeting soon to explore possibilities.
RiverFest is a good idea that now has paddled its way into Fort Waynes heart. It deserves a chance to continue.