A cool, blue and frothy jewel snakes through Cañon City.
That treasure is the Arkansas River, and water-lover Chris Moffett wants people to wake up and pay attention to its magnificence. He hopes the annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival in Centennial Park will contribute to his cause. The $5 event is Friday and Saturday in the small burg about 45 minutes south of Colorado Springs.
“As a former river guide, I love the river and I want people to use it and use it safely,” said Moffett, the festival event coordinator and co-chairperson.
“I want people to use it who live in Cañon City. They don’t see the resource that exists here. I want them to see how awesome it is. We have a brain drain here in town — kids move away to Denver. I want people to recognize how awesome Cañon City is and get addicted and stay.”
While last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic, the festival typically attracts around 8,000 attendees. They come for the bike rides, the trail runs, the weenie dog races, the robust music schedule and the beer. But most of all, they come for the quirky river events.
There’s the duckie dash, where people of any skill level are given a duckie (an inflatable kayak), a paddle and a life jacket and helmet, and primed to race five other people. First down the river wins $300.
And then there’s the Greater Fremont County Floatie Rodeo, where participants can use anything that floats. They’re all launched down the river at the same time and try to avoid dragons who want to tag them out. First one to finish without getting tagged gets a gift certificate.
The Build Your Own Boat Race can turn up some outlandish creations, such as the team of rafters who once dressed up as bacon and eggs and rode the river in their large frying pan. People can’t use pre-built boats and have to make it through the park without the boat breaking up. The winner gets an ounce of gold.
The Raft Rodeo features teams from rafting companies, who aim to be the best at taking control of the wave while pushing other boats out through any scandalous means possible. The winner gets a belt buckle.
“We want to emphasize this is everybody’s whitewater festival,” said Moffett, who’s also president of the nonprofit Royal Gorge-Rio. “It’s not just for elite kayakers and rafters.”
The first festival a dozen years ago was held to fund the whitewater park, more than a mile from the end of the Royal Gorge. Profits from the annual event benefit Royal Gorge RIO, which has cleaned up 35 miles of the Arkansas River by removing old concrete laced with rebar that was once thrown on the river bank to stop erosion.
“It would also fall in the river and cut people if they went in the river,” Moffett said. “Rivers became dangerous. Over the years we’ve done a lot to clean up the river so it’s safe for people to use, but we’re still not getting the amount of people on river we want. We want to emphasize (river) accessibility and how to do it.”
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