LEWISTOWN - Hundreds gathered at Victory Park on Saturday to celebrate the Seventh Annual Juniata RiverFest. As a tradition that the community has grown to look forward to each year, Juniata RiverFest is an all-day Independence Day celebration featuring a Raft Regatta, Community Float, 5K River Rampage Run, Rockin' by the River Entertainment, vendors, activities and evening fireworks.
This year's RiverFest had numerous events for area residents and visitors alike to enjoy. The festivities began with the River Rampage Event at 9 a.m. The 5K race was introduced during the second annual RiverFest, and the number of participants has continued to grow each year. More than 60 runners pre-registered for this year's 5K race, and organizers said they expected more than 100 runners total for the event. A new addition to the race this year was Team Taz Fitness, which included 35 runners from various age groups.
The race began at the Mifflin County Industrial Development Corp., and the runners were faced with a basic flat and fast course. At the conclusion of the race, participants were offered a variety of healthy refreshments and all pre-registered runners received a 2012 River Rampage 5k t-shirt. The race also offered multiple awards - and bragging rights - to its participants. Among these honors was Top Male, won by Jeff Miller; Top Female, won by Deanna Rustler, and Best Patriotic Costume won by Richard Aurand.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Jim Powell, front, wades through the waters of the Juniata River as he hands an Olympic Torch to a teammate on the Creekside Hearth and Patio Olympic Games themed raft during the 2012 Juniata RiverFest Raft Regatta, Saturday morning in Lewistown.
Miller and Rustler each received a trophy in honor of their success, and recognition also was given to the first, second, and third place finishers in each age division.
The day's next event was the popular Raft Regatta. Each of the 12 teams registered for the event constructed and took part in the race with a homemade floating vehicle maneuvered by paddle, push or float across the finish line located at the Juniata River Access by Victory Park. The race began at the Waterside Campground & RV Park. The goal for rafters was to be as creative as possible in order to have a chance at winning a wide array of possible awards.
Overall, 10 awards were granted to qualifying rafts, with a distinguished panel of community representatives serving as judges as judges for the event. Team "Piddle Paddle" with Captain John Youtzy and crewman Isaac Varner won the race as the first to cross the finish line with a final time of 3 hours and 15 minutes.
"The Duct Tape Brigade" won the Titanic award, or most likely to sink; Team "Rusty Trombones" won the Ugly Duckling award; and "Team Morder" won the Uncle Sam award with their "Please recycle" raft. In addition, the Most Original award went to Team "Bike Lighting," Team "To Hell in a Handbasket" won the Regatta Queen award, Best Themed went to the "2012 Olympics Team USA" and team "19th Hole" won the Best Dressed award.
This years' Team Spirit award was shared by two teams; both "The Flying Dutchman" and "2012 Olympics-Team USA" walked away with the honors of this award for their great team spirit. Finally, Team "Flying Dutchman" ended the race by receiving the Juniata River Turtle award for being the last raft to cross the finish line, after spending more than six hours on the river.
Simultaneously, community members who did not register for the Raft Regatta had the opportunity to participate in the Community Float. River floaters in canoes, kayaks, inner-tubes and homemade rafts were moved by the current down the river alongside rafters registered for the River Regatta. This years' river attendees came to the event with a variety of fun and creative activities to do while floating down the river. One a raft was powered by a bicycle driven paddle wheel. Others came equipped with water balloon launchers, squirt guns, and blow horns. Family pets also played a part on Saturday, as some river goers floated down the Juniata with their dogs.
Rockin' by the River started at noon on the stage in Victory Park. The event provided musical and art entertainment to attendees until 11 p.m. Rockin' by the River was coordinated and hosted by Ryan Russler of Media X Creative.
Russler said while working with other community members to organize the first year of RiverFest, he had wanted to create a spin-off from American Idol. This idea ultimately grew into what is now known as the RiverFest Idol competition. Judges for the event held an open casting call prior to RiverFest, and 10 finalists were then selected to perform in hopes of being crowned RiverFest Idol.
"I had no idea it would turn out to be as big as it did," Russler said when asked how he felt about RiverFest Idol becoming such a huge part of RiverFest.
On average, the event has 40 people audition for the competition each year. This years' RiverFest Idol contestants included Kasi Damiano, Zoey Dippery, Ashley Irving, Yasha Jakobiovits, Rachel Moon, Brittany Rearick, Marissa Slater, Mckenna Snyder, Montana Varna and Michaela Wagner. After each finalist performed onstage at Victory Park, the judges evaluated each contestant's performance.
This year's winner won over crowds with her voice and talent. Earning the title of RiverFest Idol, 12-year-old Montana Varner walked away with a prize package valued at more than $500, donated by local area businesses. Close behind was Zoey Dippery, finishing second, and Michaela Wagner, coming in third place.
Rockin' by the River also entertained RiverFest attendees throughout the rest of the night. Local bands and musicians gave performances on the hour both before and after RiverFest Idol. Some of the bands that offered up their talents for the evening included Bernie Rich, Timber Tantrum, Chris Ruble and FOG Jam.
While listening to the talents offered up by those participating in Rockin' by the River, guests were able to walk around Victory Park and visit the various vendors and stands set up by local nonprofit organizations. Rockin' by the River also was able to provide entertainment to residents throughout the county through the efforts of MERF Radio and WCHX 105.5 FM, who broadcast the music provided by bands for radio listeners throughout the evening hours.
The annual fireworks display lit up the sky over the Juniata River beginning at 9:30 p.m., and drew loud cheers and applause from the crowd when it came to its finale around 10 p.m. Musical entertainment then continued on the stage at Victory Park until 11 p.m.
Juniata RiverFest began in 2005 after members of the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea to reinstate the Raft Regatta. The end result of their combined efforts was RiverFest. In its first year alone, 8,000 people were in attendance. Over time, the initial Raft Regatta celebration has grown to include the community float, music and art entertainment, a variety of food and craft vendors and incorporation of the annual fireworks display.
The Visitors Bureau describes RiverFest as "a free, family-friendly event that celebrates the surrounding community through arts, entertainment, and recreational activities. The event brings together residents and non-residents of all backgrounds by exposing them to the many different types of art surrounding the river. It is a creative means to focus on the importance of the Juniata River and the surrounding areas."
To find information about the eighth annual Juniata RiverFest in 2013, go online to the Visitors Bureau website at www.juniatarivervalley.org.