Organizers cancel Riverfest due to coronavirus pandemic

Foundation president says organization had no choice

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The familiar sight of rafts crowded with Riverfest visitors on the Animas River over Memorial Day weekend will not be seen this year, as organizers have canceled the event.
  • Planning for the festival had come to a halt a few weeks earlier because of the coronavirus-related shutdown.
  • Foundation officials began notifying the various partners involved in the festival about their decision almost immediately.
  • River Reach Foundation President Karen Lupton said she didn't think anyone was surprised by the decision.

FARMINGTON — Riverfest, the celebration of the Animas River corridor that takes place each Memorial Day weekend in Farmington, is the latest public event to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials of the River Reach Foundation, the nonprofit organization that stages the festival, decided April 2 to pull the plug on this year's event. Planning for the festival had come to a halt a few weeks earlier because of the coronavirus-related shutdown, and foundation officials had been in a holding pattern until a clearer picture of the situation emerged.

"We are canceling Riverfest," River Reach Foundation President Karen Lupton said. "We really don't have a choice."

'A lot of unknowns': No chance of holding festival later this year

Foundation officials were concerned about their obligations to the numerous sponsors, donors, vendors and performers who had signed on for the festival, and they wanted to give them as much notice as possible if the event was not going to take place this year. Riverfest had been scheduled to be held May 24-26 in Berg and Animas parks along the Animas River in Farmington.

Foundation officials began notifying the various partners involved in the festival about their decision almost immediately.

"I don't think anyone's surprised," Lupton said. "I think most of them thought we already had canceled it or were expecting it."

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Lupton said it was apparent to Riverfest officials that there was no realistic chance of postponing the festival and holding it later in the year.

"There are a lot of unknowns," she said, describing the lack of clarity surrounding the issue of how long the shutdown will remain in effect and what kind of economic impact the shutdown is having.

"There are a lot of repercussions," she said of the shutdown. "We have no idea what it will look like for the city with the (gross receipts tax) and oil prices. There's just a lot going on."

How will they handle funding received for Riverfest?

Lupton said foundation officials would be talking with sponsors and donors over the next several days about how to handle the funding the organization already had received for this year's event.

"We don't know that yet," she said. "Part of those conversations will be do you want us to keep the money for future events or do you want a refund?"

Riverfest typically attracts a crowd of approximately 30,000 people to Berg and Animas parks with its offerings of whitewater rafting, live entertainment, vendors, children's attractions, food and drink, tractor rides and more. It has been a staple of Farmington's lineup of summertime events since the 1980s.

This marks the first cancellation in the event's long history. Bob Lehmer, who is serving as the director of entertainment for this year's festival and who has been involved with the event since its inception, said the festival had to be concentrated on River Reach Terrace on Memorial Day 2005 because Rocky Reach Landing and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were both ankle deep in water.

But he said the festival has never faced a challenge like it did this year.

"Of course, it's unfortunate we're going to have to cancel the event," he said. "We had been holding off until we knew more about the coronavirus. But we're thinking of the public. That's the most important thing."

Lehmer issued a thank you to all the sponsors, donors and volunteers who have been part of the festival in years past.

"We're so appreciative that they are backing us," he said. "We want them to realize we couldn't do it without them, certainly. … We'll have more Riverfests in the future."

Lehmer said 19 musical groups and 30 food vendors already had agreed to take part in this year's event, and there were various other visual artists, nonfood vendors, arts and crafts vendors and other parties who were being notified about the decision.

The cancelation of the event certainly doesn’t mean the work is over for festival officials.

"It's going to be about 160 calls to make," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: