By Scott Yates

It was been billed as a family, fun, free event, but actually, RiverFest 2018, held at Columbia Park in Kennewick on Sept. 8, was an opportunity to educate the public about the values of a working Columbia/Snake River system.

The Washington Grain Commission (WGC) was among 35 sponsors who contributed funds to make the celebration of “Our rivers, Our way of life” a reality. Approximately 3,000 parents and children attended. More than 40 organizations had exhibits that highlighted maintaining the river as a multi-use system including transportation, irrigation, flood control and recreation.

Kids playing in wheatbox at the 2018 RiverFestThe WGC exhibit was the popular “wheatbox” filled with 102 bushels (6,100 pounds) of wheat for children to play in and play they did! Banners around the play area highlighted the value of the Lower Snake River dams to wheat farmers.

Rachel Little, Information and Education coordinator for the Benton Conservation District, said the wheatbox creatively tied together the two elements of RiverFest in that it entertained children while educating adults.

“I saw one kid belly flop into the wheat and then make a swimming motion while his mom and dad stood by and read the WGC banners. Mom and Dad were educated as their kids were entertained. You can’t get a better situation than that,” she said, adding the entire event was a wonderful investment in educating the public while celebrating the success of the river system. “I think RiverFest really helped to draw some of the connections the public hasn’t already made.”

The Pasco Chamber of Commerce was responsible for organizing the event. Colin Hastings, executive director of the Chamber, was appreciative of the sponsorships which provided the funds necessary to publicize the river celebration.

RiverFest visiters reading about the Columbia Snake River system“From what I have seen in our area, we are always reacting. RiverFest was being more proactive and doing it in an educational setting,” he said, adding that the timing was opportune in helping combat the mistaken belief that without the four Snake River dams, Puget Sound resident orca population would be better off. “Having this celebration scheduled and on the books caught lightening in a bottle.”

The Pasco Chamber is already planning for a RiverFest event in 2019, but Hastings said that doesn’t preclude having similar events all along the river.

“I think the more the merrier because these events demonstrate a connection to the river system and provide a platform for getting that message out,” he said.

Gary Bailey, chairman of the WGC, said he was pleased the grain commission was among the three dozen sponsors, all of which have a similar ethos when it comes to the river system.

“It’s important that we get the message across that we can have salmon and a working river too. After the Endangered Species listing for salmon in the early 1990s, the Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration rolled up their sleeves and got to work to improve salmon passage both up and down the river. We don’t want to harm salmon, and we want our rivers to work for us and contribute to our way of life,” he said. “I believe with modern management, we can have both.”

Cutlines:

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The “wheatbox” sponsored by the Washington Grain Commission was a hit with children and their parents at the 2018 RiverFest event held in Columbia Park along the Columbia River.

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At the Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District exhibit, employees handed out literature about the organization’s role along the river system to children and adults.

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Heather Wendt, assistant manager of the Benton and Franklin Conservation Districts, spent RiverFest 2018 talking about the impact of conservation districts and her role coordinating the Heritage Garden program that teaches homeowners how to conserve water and still have beautiful landscaping.

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You may not want to teach children the rudiments of kayaking on the Columbia River, but build your own pond out of hay bales and plastic sheeting, as Ranch and Home, a Kennewick business that bills itself as more than a Western store did, and the introduction is safe and fun.

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A contingent of Impact Percussion drummers, a competitive winter percussion ensemble from the  Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties, enlivened RiverFest 2018 as they performed impromptu entertainments throughout the event.

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The Rolling River Trailer, a hands-on watershed model, was a hit with parents and children. The model, which was manned by Cascadia Conservation District personnel, teaches children to tame raging rivers with tree plantings, snags and other fixes.

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While their children played in the “wheatbox” banners developed by the Washington Grain Commission, educated parents to the importance of the Columbia/Snake River system to Eastern Washington’s wheat farmers.