For the first time in years, the Arkansas River is surging with water for the opening weekend of the Wichita River Festival, so much so that all non-motorized watercraft were absent for the weekend.
This means the festival’s free kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and stand-up paddle boards were not on scene this weekend, though organizers say they will be coming back Monday, unless conditions change.
“We were advised against it this weekend because of the current,” said Ann Keefer, vice president of program development for Wichita Festivals. “The river hasn’t crested yet, so things are moving pretty quickly down there.”
The city advises boaters to take precaution in the river when the flow exceeds 2,000 cubic feet per second. On Friday, water speeds were peaking at 4,300 cubic feet per second.
“We’ve had a lot of rainfall in the Little Arkansas and the Arkansas River basins that have increased flow,” said Scott Lindebak, stormwater engineer with the city.
He predicted that speeds will continue to slow throughout the day Saturday and return to their normal levels by Monday. At these speeds the danger, he said, lies in what’s below the surface.
“My main concern is large debris not viewable on the surface – logs and other limbs floating just below the surface,” he said. “We’re not prohibiting boating; it’s just an advisory.”
Festival organizers are working with event sponsors to reschedule water events for later in the week. The cardboard regatta, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been rescheduled for June 8, from 1 to 3 p.m.
The kayaks, canoes and paddle boats are scheduled to be available starting Monday. Keefer said the festival is still working on rescheduling the stand-up paddle boards.
Though festivalgoers were unable to get in the water, plenty were able to fly over the water, thanks to the festival’s popular zipline.
A steady flow of adventurous people kept zipline operators busy on Saturday afternoon.
Riders waited about 30 minutes to get on Saturday afternoon.
The zipline is a cable that stretches across the Arkansas River both ways that visitors slide down to get across. Riders jump off a 40-foot tower to start the trip.
Mary McNeely, 53, and her daughter Hannah, 21, were first-time riders on Saturday. Their friend Elizabeth Guhmen, a zipline veteran, persuaded them to try it.
“Some people need a little encouragement, like a cat in the water,” Guhmen, 56, said. “It’s the push off that gives you the real rush.”
Afterward, the McNeelys said they were glad they decided to ride.
“That was great,” Mary McNeely said. “You don’t want it to end.”
Riverfest patrons were out in full force Saturday afternoon, enjoying the cooler weather.
The weather this year has been similar to last year’s, which was held on the same week. Temperatures are expected to peak in the upper 70s later in the week.
Festival director Mary Beth Jarvis said since this is her first year running the event, she does not have a benchmark to gauge attendance with, but she said she has been pleased with the turnout so far.
“The weather’s cooperating,” she said. “It’s fantastic.”