Rafting trips may be moved, but will be offered

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FARMINGTON — Even with the Animas River receiving considerably less runoff this year than normal, visitors to this weekend's Riverfest celebration need not worry about having the opportunity to engage in one of the event's more popular activities.

Riverfest officials say rafting trips will still be a part of this year's event, even if they have to be moved to the San Juan River.

Riverfest spokeswoman Jeanene Valdes of the nonprofit River Reach Foundation said Thursday that if the flow in the Animas River does not decrease by this weekend, the waterway will continue to be the site of the paid rafting trips that long have been a staple of the celebration.

"It looks like we're going to be OK on the Animas," she said Thursday afternoon.

But if the flow in the river falls to an unacceptable level, Valdes said organizers already have arranged a Plan B. They'll move the trips to the San Juan River, with the Bolack family agreeing to allow rafting companies access to their riverfront property.

"We'll make that decision as close as we can to the actual event," Valdes said.

This isn't the first time a lack of water in the river has hampered Riverfest's rafting activities. Valdes said event organizers were forced to do the same thing in 2002.

"It's not entirely new," she said. "It's a little more difficult, but we can make it happen."

The comparatively dry conditions won't hamper the spirit of the event, she said, explaining that she still anticipates a huge crowd for the annual celebration, now entering its 32nd year. The sunny skies and warmer-than-normal temperatures that are forecast for the holiday weekend will help persuade many people to get outdoors, but Valdes encouraged Riverfest visitors to be smart about the conditions.

"We want to make sure people plan for it and bring your sunblock and stay hydrated," she said.

She encouraged festival visitors to pick up a Riverfest map, which includes information about the distances between attractions, so that they'll be able to make well-informed decisions about how far they'll need to walk to get to their desired destination.

She also reminded visitors that anyone in distress should seek out a Riverfest information booth, where personnel from the event's command unit can respond.

The festival itself gets underway tonight with a VIP kickoff party at Berg Park West. The party, which is limited to those with VIP passes, features food, drinks and live music by festival headliner Chris Shutters, an Ohio-based blues-rocker who Valdes compared to Eric Clapton. Shutters and his band also will perform Saturday night at the Little Pavillion.

The public portion of Riverfest runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in Berg and Animas parks with live music, food and drink vendors, a beer and wine garden, gourd dancing, yoga classes, wiener dog races, a 5k run, disc golf, tractor rides, Xeriscape garden tours, a recycled fashion show, a plein air painting art exhibition and a plastic duck race featuring prizes.

New to the event this year is Water Gun Alley in Berg Park presented by Lou Go's Taxi Service and Capacity Builders Inc. The attraction is described as paint ball with water guns, and games are scheduled to begin on an hourly basis for all-ages participants and on the half-hour for children ages 2 to 12. The cost is $5 per individual or $20 for a group of five for a 20-minute game.

Valdes said the festival's beer and wine garden will cover a larger area this year in Berg Park and will include a row of food vendors. Other food vendors will be scattered throughout the two parks.

Those attending Riverfest also will have an opportunity to view a new memorial installed in Animas Park for a deceased Farmington firefighter who associates say left his mark on the department.

The Farmington Professional Firefighters Union and the River Reach Foundation raised about $18,000 for a memorial dedicated to Lt. Jacob Shadd Rohwer, who died of cancer on Jan. 11.

Capt. Tom Anderson of the Farmington Fire Department said the memorial was dedicated during a ceremony May 19.

"It was a huge community effort that could not have been done without monetary and time donations from a lot of people in the community," Anderson said.

Rohwer was diagnosed with cancer, which officials say was presumably caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals encountered in the line of duty.

Architect Daryl Polston designed the memorial, which Anderson described as having a 12-foot-by-20-foot patio, a 3- to 4-foot block pedestal with a bronze plaque with Rohwer's story on it, and a bronze sculpture, along with two bronze benches.

Since parking adjacent to Berg and Animas parks is limited, Valdes encouraged festival visitors to car pool or, better yet, take advantage of the shuttle buses offered by Red Apple Transit from the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St. Buses will run every 30 minutes and make stops at locations throughout the festival. The cost is $1 for adults, 50 cents for children ages 11 to 17 and seniors 65 and older. Children 10 and younger, and VIP ticket holders ride for free.

Admission to the festival is free. Visit riverreachfoundation.com or call 505-716-4405 for more information.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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