On a sunny, breezy Saturday, people were able to enjoy the final day of the Wichita River Festival free of the thunderstorms that had almost become a festival tradition.
Harnessed passengers sped across the Arkansas River on an elevated zipline just south of the Douglas Avenue Bridge. Music blared from a floating stage on the river at A. Price Woodard Park, and festivalgoers strolled through the food court outside Century II eating the last of the Pronto Pups and funnel cakes, Dippin’ Dots and Philly steak sandwiches.
The festival closed with a fireworks display over the Arkansas River that was delayed for more than 15 minutes as fire officials checked weather data and repositioned their equipment to account for steady 15 mph winds. An estimated 240,000 to 260,000 people attended the festival throughout the week, said Brett Foltz, the festival’s director of marketing.
“It’s comparable or a little bit better than last year,” he said.
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Saturday was a good day for festivalgoers to focus on whatever event they wanted to try. Paityn Smith, 14, found the courage to go on the zipline for the first time after watching it last year.
“The stairs were scary, and right when you jump off it’s scary, but once you get going it’s fun,” she said.
Chad Pike and his son, Zane, 4, tried a paddleboat while the rest of the family prepared for a dance recital at Century II. Father and son had enough fun that they’ll probably try it again next year.
“It’s a great idea,” Chad Pike said. “It utilizes the river, and that’s what it’s here for, I guess.”
Wind was the only weather issue, and by midafternoon, it began whipping up whitecaps on the river, forcing the paddleboat rides to be suspended.
Steve and Paul June, repeat festival visitors from Rogers, Ark., stepped off the Wagonmasters’ Water Wagon after a tour of the river in the morning, and Steve June pronounced the trip “outstanding.”
They have taken river tours in Hannibal, Mo., and in New Orleans, he said.
“This was a lot of fun, and definitely a worthwhile addition to Riverfest,” he said.
They will be back, he said.
“There’s so many different varieties of activities,” Steve June said. “This morning at 7 o’clock we were over at the ice palace watching hockey. Last night we were downtown watching country music. Yesterday morning when we came into town we stopped in at the air museum and thoroughly enjoyed that.”
As the afternoon lengthened, Don and Brenda Claycamp of Conway Springs nibbled on ears of corn at a table in the food court. They were making their third visit to the festival.
“I think it’s been really nice this year,” Brenda Claycamp said. “It doesn’t seem as crowded, and the restrooms are much cleaner. That’s a big thing.”
More crowds began arriving in the late afternoon for the festival’s Block Party at Kennedy Plaza and A. Price Woodard Park, featuring dancers, musicians, fire-eaters and other entertainers.
Other events on the last day included interactive game shows inside Century II and a movie from the Tallgrass Film Festival.
Janet Wright, festival director, said this year’s festival did well.
“Monday and Tuesday were a little slow, but I think the rest of this week has been pretty good,” she said.
The weather cooperated, and glitches were few. The first weekend was a challenge for workers to set up some of the bigger events, she said. And there was a problem with a water main.
“But for the most part everything’s gone well,” Wright said. “We haven’t had any security issues. The volunteers have been great.”
Vendors in the food court and the festival’s marketplace said they did better than a year ago.
Keionta Martin, who was working in the Hoopingarner’s tent in the food court selling funnel cakes and other classic festival fare, said he figured to do better this year because storms didn’t interrupt business.
“It was pretty heavy on the first weekend,” he said. “During the week it slowed down.”
Meagan Polk, who was selling pet treats at the Bradley’s Bones booth in the marketplace outside Century II, said her booth did better in the first hour on Saturday than it did in three days last year.
This year, the marketplace was open for only a day. Last year it was held inside for three days, which was too long, she said.
“Last year we hardly did anything,” she said.
Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle