HSMC Celebrates Fifth Annual RiverFest

Students with the St. Mary’s River Project brought the terrapin from Schaefer Hall to RiverFest 2009 along with a variety of other aquatic organisms.
Students with the St. Mary’s River Project brought the terrapin from Schaefer Hall to RiverFest 2009 along with a variety of other aquatic organisms. Photo By Brendan O’Hara

On Sunday, Sept. 27, about 800 members of the College and surrounding community gathered in Historic St. Mary’s City for the fifth annual RiverFest. From noon to 6, attendees were able to enjoy activities from skipjack rides to pumpkin painting and birds of prey demonstrations as well as the Historic St. Mary’s City museum.

The day included a wade-in with former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler, where over fifty participants waded into the St. Mary’s River until they could no longer see their feet. There were live performances, including Byzantine Top 40 and a middle eastern dance troupe. Younger participants enjoyed balloon animals, pumpkin painting and face painting. This year, a paddle-in was held for the first time, with participants launchin off from Great Mills and kayaking down to Historic St. Mary’s City.

The St. Mary’s River Project (SMRP) had a table where they displayed several different organisms. “Kids came past and we talked to them about the different organisms and about pollution,” said Alexia Gay, one of the current leaders. “We also handed out information about our program. At the same time, we had a team down at the water doing an interactive Seine for the kids, showing them the live organisms caught.”

Students from the St. Mary’s Environmental Action Coalition, Eco-House, and Tri-Beta also had tables at the event.

“This year’s RiverFest was awesome,” said Professor Elaine Szymkowiak, who helped organize the event. “We had a great turnout, with over 800 community members in attendance. After a rainy start on Sunday morning, the sun broke through the clouds and it was a beautiful day to celebrate the St. Mary’s River.”

RiverFest 2009 was sponsored by the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association (SMRWA). SMRWA, “really works hard to preserve the river and its resources and to educate citizens and help them appreciate the river,” said Professor Bob Paul, who is the SMRWA’s Vice President.

For the first three years, RiverFest was held at the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab on St. George’s Island. “Although it was a good site…it was too small for us,” said Paul. Last year, the festival was moved to Historic St. Mary’s City, its current location.

RiverFest was created because, “We thought that we needed a free community event that would be entertaining but also get information out to the community,” said Joe Anderson, the President of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Assosiation. “The St. Mary’s River is beautiful. It’s hard to tell that there’s anything wrong with it.”

This year’s RiverFest took a year to plan. SMRWA’s Executive Director Bob Lewis and staff member Lindsay Tempinson led the planning and were helped by SMRWA board members and community volunteers.

Next year, RiverFest may include boat races, “possibly a kayak race and a cardboard boat race for kids,” said Szymkowiak. “For the cardboard boat race, community organizations such as the scouts would have several weeks to build their boat and enter it in the competition. We hope to expand the number of exhibits and increase our sponsorships.”

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