Awaken the dragon!
Celebrate the river with dragon boat races, music & fun at RiverFest, June 22-24
Gracing the Susquehanna River for the second year will be long, thin, brightly-colored dragon boats at RiverFest in Wilkes-Barre, June 22 to 24. The festivities will take place on the river itself, along with Wilkes-Barre’s River Commons and Nesbitt Park, and are expected to draw more than 5,000 people.
Dragon boat racing brings a rich and mythical history, as it is one of the oldest forms of boat racing. According to the California Dragon Boat Association, the sport has roots in Chinese culture dating back to more than 2,000 years ago.
Dragon boat racing consists of 20 paddlers and a steers person rowing their dragon-shaped boat to try to beat the competition. There’s also one person assigned to sit in the boat and drum so rowers paddle in time with each other. Teams train Saturday, June 23 for the competition scheduled for Sunday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The RiverFest race is leading up to a big Dragon Boat Racing Festival planned for September 8 and 9. Organizations or companies interested in making a team and racing a dragon boat can apply through the Riverfront Parks Committee.
Vincent Cotrone, president of the Riverfront Park Committee, said the dragon boat races are still new to the area, and he’s hoping to build up the interest before the big race. A big part of the anticipation will be the Awaken the Dragon kick-off, which Cotrone says will be a surprise ceremony to improve on last year’s event.
“We were told we did not ‘awaken the dragon’ properly last year,” Cotrone said. “With this year being the ‘Year of the Dragon’ we want to do it right.”
The Awaken the Dragon ceremony will be Friday, June 22 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The opening events will also welcome spectators with concerts on the River Common, including performances by local bands Three Imaginary Boys, George Wesley and Tribes. There will also be family fishing on the pier, community mural painting and other free activities.
The dragon boats won’t be the only thing on the water. RiverFest also includes daily paddling trips, which attracts a great deal of kayakers. “We put around 500 paddlers on the water,” Cotrone said.
Friday’s trip will take paddlers from West Pittston to Wilkes-Barre. There will be a day-long trip from Harding to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday. And on Sunday, another day-long trip will lead from Wilkes-Barre to Hunlock Creek.
Cotrone said these river trips are geared toward all levels of experience. “It’s nice to see newcomers, who’ve never done it before, go on the water and they’re like, ‘wow, that was terrific!’ Cotrone said.
But for those who want a little more practice, there will be kayaking demos the afternoon of Saturday, June 23.
Cotrone said it’s important to recognize the importance of protecting the historical river, especially during Rivers Month.
“Rivers Month is a way for us to celebrate the fact that the Susquehanna connects all our communities, it leads to the Chesapeake Bay, and it is the reason people settled in the Wyoming Valley so many years ago,” he said.
On dry land, a family-friendly festival will be the main RiverFest event on Saturday. The festival will offer children’s art and nature programs, guided nature hikes in the Kirby Park Natural Area, a kids’ tree climb and pony rides. Don Shappelle and the Pick-Ups will be on hand to play live music.
For those who prefer four-wheeled transportation over boats, there will be a car show on the commons Saturday evening featuring classic cars from the NEPA Region Antique Automobile Club of America. The Concert on the Commons will return Saturday night with music from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Cotrone said they tried to make the event appeal to everyone. “We want everyone to become engaged and reconnect with the river,” Cotrone said. “Whether that is coming down to the car show on Saturday evening on the River Common, or a concert on the commons, or paddling a kayak from Harding or racing a dragon boat. We have lots of family friendly activities for all.”
— kirstin cook
For more information, call Penn State Extension at 825-1701 or visit www.riverfrontparks.org.
Guided River Trips
Friday, June 22 — Evening Paddle from West Pittston to Wilkes-Barre. Shuttle busses leave Nesbitt Park Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. To register, contact Endless Mountains Outfitters at 746-9140 or www.emo444.com.
Saturday, June 23 — Northern Wyoming Valley. Daylong paddle from Harding to Wilkes-Barre. Shuttle busses leave Nesbitt Park at 7:30 a.m. To register, contact Susquehanna River Adventures at 328-4001 or www.susqpaddle.com.
Sunday, June 24 — Southern Wyoming Valley. Daylong paddle from Wilkes-Barre to Hunlock Creek. Shuttle Busses leave Hunlock Creek (Drive-Inn Theatre) at 7:45 a.m. To register, contact Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rentals at 388-6107 or www.kayaktheriver.com.