Test the waters at this year's RiverFest

You can clap along to a rousing jazz band, or stand on the shores and enjoy the sounds of silence.

More than 1,500 participants will take in activities from quiet canoe paddles to poetry readings to concerts during the eighth annual RiverFest, with events in communities where the Concord, Assabet and Sudbury rivers flow.

Some events, including a pontoon boat ride from Bedford, are popular attractions held in past years; others are new, such as Sawyer Hill Eco Village’s tour of conservation land in Berlin at the headwaters of the Assabet River.

The more people see rivers as a source of recreation and beauty in their communities, the easier it is for them to understand the need to protect them, said Lee Steppacher, director and spokesman for the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council.

The success of RiverFest lies in the cooperation of many organizations, from federal park entities to local arts groups, said Steppacher.

For example, Musketaquid Arts and Environment, an education group based at the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, offers a sculpture park off Lowell Road in Concord, near the Concord River shores.

Visitors can walk through the woods and encounter unusual shapes and images, Steppacher said.

For those who are really “hooked,” there is a fly-tying demonstration at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge’s location in Sudbury.

Ripple effect

All the events speak in some way to the historical and environmental significance of waterways, as the council celebrates the 10th anniversary of a federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the three rivers.

“The designation set up the council,” Steppacher said. “They are kind of like the watch dogs for the rivers,” Steppacher said, adding that the council has provided input and oversight on projects proposed in towns where the rivers might be affected. “They have helped to restore the Assabet River’s water quality.”

The designation has also allowed for a small grants program.

With an overall budget of $80,000 through the National Park Service, the council has distributed $9,000 in grants this year for various educational and artistic programs focusing on river protection.

Even with national parks enduring budget constraints and the overall poor health of the economy, Steppacher said the council has been fortunate in receiving funding equal to that of last year’s budget.

One reason RiverFest in particular is poised for success is that the events depend not on one agency, but the efforts of many organizations throughout many communities.

“It’s not the reason we organized it this way. We felt, instead of having people travel to one central festival, have them experience it in their own communities,” Steppacher said. “In hindsight, in some way, it is stronger, because there are more organizations and it is more spread out.”

If you go

A complete list of RiverFest events can be found on the Web site of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council. For more information, and a complete schedule, visit the RiverFest Web site.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.

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