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Friday, April 18, 2014

‘Water Wagon’ to offer tours of Arkansas River

By Matt Riedl
The Wichita Eagle

New at this year’s Wichita River Festival, the Wichita Wagonmasters will host tours of the Arkansas River on their new “Water Wagon” boat Saturday through June 9.

The 10-minute tours start at the gazebo behind the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, 400 W. Douglas, and provide a round trip to the Keeper of the Plains. Along the way, a skipper and first mate will be give a history of the town and Riverfest. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for children up to 16 years old.

“We wanted to re-establish our roots with the River Festival,” Wagonmaster Captain Don Grant said.

The “S.S. Water Wagon One” is a 32-foot Triton boat salvaged from a marina at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. After purchasing it, the Wagonmasters stripped it down to the plywood and rebuilt it from scratch, putting in a 75-horsepower Yamaha four-stroke engine. The boat has been decorated to look like an ornate Conestoga wagon, intended to match the land-based Windwagon.

“It’s all new, but it looks old,” Grant said. “We built it to look rustic.”

Hundreds of hours and more than $20,000 later, the boat was ready to sail. The boat seats roughly 30 people per ride. There will be skipper caps for children, tattoos and picture spots around the hotel.

Riverfest President and Chief Executive Janet Wright said she has wanted to do a river ferry for many years at the festival, but the idea had never really been developed.

“The Wagonmasters wanted to do something that was uniquely theirs,” Wright said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

Tours will be available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through June 8 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 9.

“We’re hoping to re-energize the festival and bring another element that celebrates the river,” Grant said.

Reach Matt Riedl at mriedl@wichitaeagle.com.

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