Just as she courses through the mountains of Ashe and Alleghany counties, the New River winds through the souls of the people who live near her and the sensibilities of those who visit her. Local poet Marti Medley, who was raised next to the ancient river, put it this way: “Listen, she says, to the whisper of days and nights and years; be witness to the celebrations and sorrows of uncounted generations; keeper of thoughts and words, profane, joyous and profound…”
New River State Park, its neighbors, and folks who just love the river joined Saturday in the 31st New River Celebration. Thirty-one years is just a heartbeat for a river that’s one of the oldest on the continent.
Inspiration for the celebration came from an event in May 1980 when the first, modest state park facilities were dedicated at the Wagoner Access, said Jay Wild, the park’s longtime superintendent. A canoe race and a bit of bluegrass music enlivened the dedication. The following year, many of the same folks came back to start a tradition.
In its earliest days, the celebration was largely an environmental pep rally. “People were just celebrating winning the battle,” Wild said. That battle was a bare-knuckled struggle to keep the New River from being dammed for hydropower. In 1976, a 26.5-mile segment was designated a national Wild and Scenic River, which essentially stymied the dam project and birthed the state park.
The New River Celebration has evolved. It has a mascot now — Snotty the snot otter, a costumed representation of the rare hellbender salamander – and it has a menu of activities for adults and kids. And, it offers a great excuse to eat a good hot dog in the shade. But the tubing, the games, the poetry contest, the t-shirts, the environmental parade and all the rest are just ways that people try to express deep feelings about this stunning natural resource.
(Enjoy our gallery of images from this year’s New River Celebration. Click any image to start.)