RiverFest offers lessons in fun, ecology on the Catawba

A dragonboat was one of many types of watercraft plying the waters of Lake James during RiverFest.

Bluegrass music and Carolina blue skies go hand-in-hand, and that’s exactly what more than 1,400 festival-goers enjoyed at the 9th annual Catawba RiverFest at Lake James State Park Saturday.

Billed as a celebration of the cultural and ecological significance of the Catawba River, RiverFest is also a chance to introduce North Carolinians to the concept of stewardship for the river that originates in McDowell County, and winds through the piedmont and South Carolina low country, before it finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Lake James is the first of 13 manmade reservoirs along the river’s 220-mile route and boasts excellent water quality because it’s so near the headwaters of the river.

Among the many highlights, a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk was released back into the wild as camera shutters clicked and youngsters gasped with delight. The majestic bird of prey was nursed back to health over a period of months by dedicated volunteers from the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte. Like many of the center’s feathered patients, the hawk was a casualty of a collision with a motor vehicle.

The annual canoe and kayak races were supplemented with a chance for visitors to try out all manner of human-powered watercraft, including the hugely popular sport of paddleboarding.

Rangers and interpretive specialists provided a message of conservation along with the fun.

As event hosts, Lake James State Park rangers offered waterborne eco-tours and a “Fairy House” building station to encourage creativity and outdoor fun for youngsters. The park’s maintenance crew and an army of volunteers provided legwork for set-up and take-down of the event.

“The success of this year’s event is proof of this community’s appreciation for the river and Lake James,” said Ranger Nora Coffey. “With the enthusiasm shown today for the state park and the myriad organizations dedicated to maintaining the health of the Catawba River basin, RiverFest will go on to be bigger and better in the years to come.”

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