On Saturday, May 20, RiverFest 2017 celebrates the Lackawanna River and promotes its protection with festivities centered at Sweeney’s Beach Recreation Area, 41 Poplar St., Scranton.
Organized by the Lackawanna River Conservation Association, RiverFest raises funds to support the community-based nonprofit’s mission.
Bernie McGurl, executive director of the LCRA, says the group has spent a number of years fighting on behalf of the river’s well-being. 
“We were organized and created in 1987, so we’re actually celebrating our 30th anniversary this year,” McGurl said. “Our mission is to engage the community in activities that are beneficial for the river … activities that help to conserve the river and watershed resources.”
The LCRA first put on RiverFest in 1988, but it has changed greatly since then.
“During the 1990s, we expanded it to be a whole day of activities,” McGurl said. “Originally, it was just a canoe race in the morning and everybody went home … it evolved into a whole daylong festival to celebrate the river.” 
Many aspects of the festival’s earliest incarnation remain the same. The Lackawanna River Canoe-A-Thon, a 12-mile whitewater canoe and kayak race, still packs the waters. 
McGurl said roughly 150 to 200 canoes and kayaks launch from Maslyar Park in Archbald  (for advanced paddlers) and Blakely Borough Recreation Park in Peckville.
People often wait along portions of the
riverbank to cheer on the paddlers before heading over to the finish line and festival at Sweeney’s Beach.
Later in the day, RiverFest features guided, instructional kayak paddle excursions among other water-based activities. 
The free-to-enter Lackawanna River Regatta offers prizes to winners. 
“The Regatta is sort of a fun-filled boat parade. We ask people to decorate themselves and their boats … we’ve had huge, pink elephants and big, blue sharks,” McGurl said. “You could just get a float together, and we’ll get you launched.”
Another, more comical, contest also offers prizes to those who purchase “duck” tickets. 
“At the end of the day, we have our famous Duck-A-Thon, which is a duck race that involves special Lackawanna River racing ducks made in America. The winning prize in the duck race is $500.” 
In addition to boating activities, there will be plenty of fun out of the water. 
The festival features popular local bands Lightweight, Jung Bergo Duo and Mountain Sky Orchestra. This year’s emcee, Don Jacobs of “Pennsylvania Outdoors Live,” kicks off the entertainment at 11:30 a.m. Various food and craft vendors also will be on site and festivalgoers can set up a picnic in the park.
McGurl has high hopes that  RiverFest 2017 offers education as well as entertainment.
“We want to involve the community with the river so that they understand that it’s our river, and we can enjoy it,” McGurl said. “We need to take care of it. We still have a lot of problems — pollution that affects the water — but those problems are being addressed across the spectrum … and we need the community to come on board.”
— peter shaver


If you go
What: RiverFest 2017
When: Saturday, May 20. Finish line activities begin at 11 a.m. following the Canoe-A-Thon launch at 10 a.m.
Where: Festival activities are held at Sweeney’s Beach Recreation Area, 41 Poplar St., Scranton
Details: Admission is free. Canoe-A-Thon registration is $50 per person. For more information, call 570-347-6311 or email lrca@lrca.org. Proceeds benefit Lackawanna River Conservation Association.

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