Riverfest cancelled again, but smaller event could take place in fall

Organizers say bigger, better event in works for spring 2022

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington's annual Riverfest celebration planned for Memorial Day weekend has been canceled by organizers for the second year in a row because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Riverfest traditionally attracts 30,000 visitors each year over its three-day run along the banks of the Animas River in Farmington.
  • A continued ban on mass gatherings has led to the cancellation of the event for the second year in a row.
  • River Reach Foundation members will decide in a few weeks whether to go ahead with plans for a smaller event in the fall.

FARMINGTON — For the second year in a row, spring will come and go in Farmington minus one of its more well-known traditions.

Riverfest — an annual three-day celebration held Memorial Day weekend on the banks of the Animas River and presented by the nonprofit River Reach Foundation — will not take place again this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, which attracts approximately 30,000 people each year with white-water rafting, live entertainment, competitions and hundreds of food and commercial vendors, also was cancelled last year because of the pandemic.

"It was a huge disappointment to have to cancel it again, but we could not see any way we could hold it," D'Ann Waters, president of the River Reach Foundation, said.

Waters left open the possibility of a more modest version of Riverfest being staged in the fall if conditions allow for that. She said organizers are exploring the idea of holding that alternate event in late September or early October. And the foundation already is making ambitious plans for the return of Riverfest on Memorial Day weekend next year.

"We definitely are planning for 2022," she said. "We're definitely moving forward on that."

Waters said the foundation is engaged in discussions with officials from the New Mexico Tourism Department about expanding Riverfest in 2022.

She said state tourism officials have contracted with a large event coordinator with a worldwide reputation to provide its expertise in improving 13 designated events across New Mexico, with Riverfest being one of them. Foundation officials will meet with tourism officials this week to learn more about that arrangement, and she said the idea is to make Riverfest more of a statewide or event regional attraction as opposed to one that draws its audience mostly from San Juan County.

Riverfest visitors cross Berg Bridge over the Animas River during the 2017 event.

Waters said a decision about holding an alternate event in the fall is likely to be made by the end of March or the first week in April. She said River Reach Foundation officials will have a much better idea by then about whether a possible easing of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health orders will allow a large public gathering to be held at that point.

If foundation officials go ahead with that idea, Waters said it would not match the typical three-day run of Riverfest, which usually begins on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend and winds up on late Sunday afternoon.

"We haven't really talked too much about that," she said, explaining what the event would look like, though she did say it probably would feature fewer vendors, perhaps only those from the immediate area instead of from around the Four Corners.

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She also emphasized that foundation members are intent on not intruding on the popularity of other annual events that traditionally take place in the fall in Farmington.

"We don't want to take away from the Totah Festival and other events," she said. "This would be something small, with just a couple of bands and just for the weekend."

But Waters believes the chances are good that such an event will be feasible by then. She said planning for the gathering would need to begin soon, and that is why a decision is scheduled to be made over the next several weeks.

"Yes, I'm optimistic we could do something in the fall," she said. "Our numbers are going down with cases, and if they keep going down and everyone is vaccinated, I don't see that it would be too much of a problem with a smaller event."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.