A Hellbending Good Time

Article Published: May. 5, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 19, 2011
A Hellbending Good Time

RiverFest, scheduled for June 4, offers fun, food and more on the banks of the Watauga River in Valle Crucis. PhotoS by Frank Ruggiero


Appalachian Voices loves mountains.

Why stop there?

The Boone-based environmental advocacy group is also keen on rivers, as well as a good time, meaning the second annual RiverFest is on its way.

Scheduled for June 4 at Valle Crucis Park, this free, family-friendly event features live music, fresh food and fun by the riverside.

And let's not forget the hellbenders.

One of the Watauga River's rarer denizens, the hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in North Carolina. Affectionately known as the "snot otter," it's one of many reasons Appalachian Voices strives to keep the waterways clean.

"It is critical to protect the rivers in Appalachia, because the drinking water source for much of the Eastern seaboard originates here in the mountains," Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby said.

"RiverFest will provide an opportunity for folks to learn more about our rivers and the threats to their ecosystems, as well as what we can do to ensure healthy rivers for our future."

Apart from meeting an actual hellbender, courtesy of the N.C. Zoo, festival-goers young and old can learn all about the importance of clean waterways and have a fun time doing so.

Folks can try their hand at Gyotaku fish prints, a Japanese style of art using paint and rubber molds to create colorful prints of fish. The Watauga River Partners will host a station for visitors to learn about river bugs and insects, allowing use of microscopes and magnifying glasses to get up close and personal.

A water cycle obstacle course will place kids inside a raindrop, demonstrating the cycle rain takes from cloud to drain, and a hayride pulled by a "trout mobile" (essentially a tractor disguised as a fish) will offer folks a tour like no other.

And what would RiverFest be without a river float? Appalachian Voices will have inner tubes and canoes at the ready for visitors to enjoy the star attraction - the Watauga River.

Other educational activities include arts and crafts with Elkland Art Center, nature walks, primitive fire-building demonstrations, fly-tying and casting with Foscoe Fishing Company, make-your-own trail mix with Earth Fare, demonstrations from High Country Community Supported Agriculture and New River Organic Growers, storytelling by Orville Hicks and more.

"We'll have a good representation from organizations and local businesses," festival coordinator Parker Stevens said, "and lots of good activities for kids to get involved, get their hands dirty and learn about the rivers in the area and why it's important to protect them ... but in a fun and interactive manner."

RiverFest also highlights local food, culture and art, Stevens added. Bandana's Barbecue is serving the main course, while Black Cat Burrito is providing its homemade cole slaw and Hob Nob Farm Caf´┐Ż its own hearty cornbread. Vegetarian options are also available (as is the hands-free watermelon-eating contest), and festival-goers can plan ahead by purchasing an meal ticket in advance for $6 ($7 day of).

Music comes courtesy of Charlottesville, Va.-based guitarist Bill Adams, who specializes in blues and bluegrass; the Watauga County Jammers, young musicians from the Watauga Arts Council's Junior Appalachian Musicians Program; and popular bluegrass outfit Upright & Breathin'.

Plus, visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments for pickin' and grinnin' in The Mountain Times Pickin' Parlor.

RiverFest also serves as Appalachian Voices' annual membership meeting, allowing members from near and far to hear what's new with the group, offer feedback and socialize with each other and the staff and board.

"And, of course, people are welcome to become members that day, as well," Stevens said. "But (RiverFest) is certainly not exclusive to members only."

All are welcome, she said, and judging by the success of last year's event, High Country residents are eager to hit the river again.

"People enjoyed getting on the river and talking to water quality experts like Donna (Lisenby), so we wanted to extend it this year and make it bigger and better," Stevens said.

The second annual RiverFest is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, to volunteer or enquire about booth space, call Stevens at (828) 262-1500 or e-mail (parker@appvoices.org) For more on Appalachian Voices, visit http://www.appvoices.org.

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