In May, the Wood River Land Trust’s sixth annual Riverfest celebration became the latest entrant on a continually expanding list of canceled events, at least in its traditional format.
Normally, Riverfest invites Fourth of July revelers to Lions Park after Hailey’s Days of the Old West parade. Families and individuals of all ages could find something to enjoy there, with live music, concessions, crafts, activities and more peppering the scenic riverside park.
When faced with the unfortunate reality that large gatherings and parties such as this would be called off for the year, the event organizers had to adopt a critical—and creative—eye to figure out what exactly that meant for Riverfest.
What was the event really about, in essence? Was it about the music? The food? The games?
For Liz Pedersen, annual fund manager for the Land Trust, the answer is twofold. Riverfest, she explained, has always been about bringing the community together and celebrating the Big Wood River. There are lots of ways to do those two things.
So, like just about everything, Riverfest will look different this year, but at least it will fulfill its two core objectives of celebrating the river and promoting community togetherness (even while maintaining safe distances).
This year, the Land Trust invites community members to share memories, stories and impressions of why the Big Wood River is important to them and to the valley at large. People can write, draw and get creative as they share their feelings about the river.
On the Fourth of July, the Land Trust will be installing “story stations” at three of its riverside preserves: Howard Preserve in Bellevue, Draper Preserve in Hailey and Boxcar Bend Preserve in the mid valley between East Fork Road and Gimlet.
People are invited to visit these preserves, perhaps pack a picnic and contribute their thoughts to a “story station.” Stories will be pinned up for visitors to read and to convey a sense of why this river is so important to the community.
“Riverfest creates a shared community experience, and we’re hoping this will do the same,” Pedersen said. “We want people to feel like they have a mission for the Fourth—get out, go for a lovely walk and share your story.
“If you think about a normal Riverfest during the Fourth of July, our main goal is creating those wonderful memories for people in view of the river down by the Draper Preserve. We build a heartfelt connection between people on the banks of the river, having a great time, sharing moments with their families and creating a community love for the preserve and for the river.”
The Big Wood River is, obviously, integral to the environment, geography and ecology of Blaine County; it sustains countless species of plants and wildlife and supported Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum as they sprung up. Today, its impact is also emotional.
“The Big Wood River flows through lives all throughout the valley. In the time of COVID, you can see people seeking solace at the river,” Pedersen said. “This project is, really, an opportunity for us all to say thank you to the river. It’s powerful for people to relive and think about their stories. This is about sustaining community love for the river and bringing people together, even when we have to stay apart.”
For those who can’t make it in person on Independence Day, the Wood River Land Trust is now accepting online submissions as well. To contribute virtually, or to learn more about how to contribute in person, visit woodriverlandtrust.org.