By: Taylor Paulson, Intern
Every year the Gunnison River Festival seems to go off without a hitch and this is no small task. There is something unique about the River Festival in Gunnison, Colorado that sets our town apart from the other festivals on the western slope. There is a dedicated team that gets up early and stays up late to double and triple check the details of the Festival. This includes ensuring the events, times, forms, equipment, and prizes are all ready to go, weeks in advance. There is an inspiring amount of collaboration between organizations and sponsors in order to fund this multi-day celebration of our local rivers.
On Friday night, June 22nd, were the annual Taylor River Raft and Kayak races. The Taylor River Raft Race begins at Todd’s Slot and takes out at South Bank. Once all of the competitors have registered, picked a race jersey and paid their dues, the Festival volunteers organize each respective race and set the starting order. The raft teams set off in two-minute intervals. As soon as the first teams are off, volunteers must split up and meet down at the finish to record the rafters’ times. Once all of the rafters have gone, the kayak race can commence.
There were 15 kayaks registered and it is one mass start. Competitors set their kayaks on the bank and wait for the whistle to get into their kayaks first. The competitors are moving fast, some too fast to control their boat. There was one participant that fell sideways twice and eventually fell out of his kayak. Others pushed off the bank before completely sealed in their kayak. The kayak winner was the first to touch the bank at South Bank.
Saturday morning, June 23rd, the events started early. This year we began at the North Bridge at 8:00 a.m to help rally and organize floaters in a memorial float for local water enthusiast and legend, Matt Brown. Volunteers handed out Festival belt buckles to all rafters before the Brown family and close friends led the pack down to the Whitewater Park. At the same time another volunteer, Molly McConnell, was rallying the vendors who have been lined up for booth space riverside for the remainder of the day’s events. These vendors are an eclectic mix of organizations from the Upper Gunnison valley and elsewhere and they are important for protecting and maintaining our beautiful river as well as supporting outdoor recreation. Competitors and spectators come from near and far to enjoy the sunshine, food, drink, and hilarious commentary for each event.
As soon as the memorial float came into the Whitewater Park, family and friends shared kind words and bestowed a plaque on the 3rd water feature center rock. This makes sure that all will see the plaque and be reminded to share love for each other, this valley, and our beautiful rivers. At this point, the celebration of our rivers is underway with the Canine Big Air Competition starting things off. People brought their dogs up to the trailer that overhangs an eddy at the Park and throw their dogs toy of choice to see which can jump the farthest. Some dogs launch up to 11 feet off the trailer while others get scared and run off the trailer to chase their toys in the river the old-fashioned way. The winner this year was Griz who jumped an amazing 12 feet.
The next events were the Stand-up Surf Competition and the Freestyle Kayak Competitions. These were held at the third water feature and always pull in lots of spectators. Competitors of all ages get into the water of the feature and show off their moves. The announcers initiate the laughs for the Inflatable Rodeo and many of the competitors end up in the river. The Inflatable Rodeo also looks for audience reactions for the coolest raft tricks in the third feature wave. The final event this years was the SUP Downriver Race. A short but intense sup race goes through all three water features at the Whitewater park.
When all of the events have concluded, the vendors pack up the tents and trucks and head over to Main Street for the Upslope Brewing beer garden for beer and live music. All of the winners from the day are announced and another successful Gunnison River Festival comes to close.