Last Fourth of July, Mike McKenna, then community engagement coordinator with the Wood River Land Trust, watched months of planning go up in smoke.
The Land Trust was about an hour into its fourth annual RiverFest—a celebration of the Big Wood and protected land around it—when the telltale plumes rose around Lions Park in Hailey, and sent hundreds out of the festival grounds.
“It was a nightmare,” said McKenna, now executive director of The Chamber. “We were an hour in, we were totally packed, and we had to clear out. It was heartbreaking.”
Heartbreaking—for a while. Crews put the fire out, and the show went on, still managing to draw some 2,500 people after the Days of the Old West Parade, according to Matthew Steinwurtzel, the Land Trust’s new community engagement coordinator.
For its fifth year—coinciding with the Land Trust’s 25th anniversary—he’s planning for more people, and fewer interruptions.
“RiverFest has always served as our biggest outreach opportunity,” he said. “It’s a chance to celebrate the river, our community and the independence of this country. We’re always looking to make it bigger and better.”
The event has trended that way since year one, McKenna said.
“At first, it was really small,” he said. “The next year, it was a little bigger. The year after that, even bigger. It just keeps growing—and I see why. It’s an ideal way to spend the Fourth of July.”
Officially starting at 1 p.m. in the park, the event will hit its stride once the parade ends, and keep the party going until things wind down at 5 p.m.
A few blocks off Main Street, it’s the perfect place to stumble after the procession, and savor some local flavor. That includes food from nearby vendors, crafts from homegrown artisans, musical sets by Swagger and Up A Creek, a carnival for kids and a beer garden sponsored by Sawtooth Brewery for adults.
But, the star of the show flows just east of the festivities.
“Really, the purpose of the event is to celebrate the river,” Steinwurtzel said. “It’s something that unites us all, whether it’s your source for water, for recreation or for your livelihood, like the farmers in the south valley.
“RiverFest, in my personal opinion, is a great venue to come out and see how tightly knit our community is and how much we value having open space and a healthy river.”