Wichita Riverfest 2015: Raft races are back

Sam Kasper takes her team’s entry to the Arkansas River in the Cardboard Regatta at 2014’s Riverfest.
Sam Kasper takes her team’s entry to the Arkansas River in the Cardboard Regatta at 2014’s Riverfest. File photo

You asked for it, Wichita, and now it’s back: Raft races have returned to Riverfest.

A staple of the festival for years, races down the Arkansas River featuring various kinds of crafts were dropped in 2003 because of a perceived lack of interest by participants and regular festivalgoers.

But as they say, what goes around comes around, and during this year’s Riverfest, homemade rafts will be coming down a stretch of the Arkansas River.

“Everybody said they wanted it back, so come out and make a raft,” said Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc. Deadline for registration is 5 p.m. June 4.

The twist for this year’s competition, known as the Wet Your Pallet Raft Race, is that 80 percent of each raft – including paddles – must be made from recyclable material, such as milk jugs, water bottles and pallets.

“Our hope is this emphasis on recyclable material will help get people involved,” Jarvis said.

The rafts are required to carry two people from the Douglas Avenue Bridge south to the Hyatt Regency. Prizes will be given for first and second place (known as the “first loser”), most original design and the Tom Sawyer Award for the raft with the most unusual form of propulsion. During the race, competitors can fire Super Soakers across their bows at opponents but nothing else.

The rafts will be tied up and on display in the river for a couple of hours before the event.

Festival spokeswoman Terri Mott said raft races were dropped previously partly because the vessels “were very elaborate” and ended up taking people months to assemble. A festival volunteer mentioned seeing a simpler “milk jug race” at another festival and thought that might work here. “We thought ‘Why just limit it to milk jugs? Shouldn’t it be any kind of material?’ ”

The raft race is just one of several events taking place on the water as part of the festival’s attempt in recent years to put the focus back on the river. They include:

▪ Cardboard Regatta. A sort of improvisational version of the Wet Your Pallet Race, participants will be given a few objects – cardboard, duct tape, pool noodles and a box cutter – with which to build a river-worthy vessel in 1 1/2 hours or less. The vessel must be able to hold at least one rider 12 or older. Prizes will give given for fastest time, best design and most spectacular sinking.

▪ Paddle Battle Kayak Races. Starting at the Douglas Avenue Bridge, kayakers will sprint 1,000 feet downstream for a chance to win cash and prizes.

▪ Riverfest Flotilla. The lighted boat parade starts immediately after the closing night’s Rockin’ on the River Concert. Boats will start to travel north from near the Kellogg bridge over the Arkansas River to a turnaround point close to the “Keeper of the Plains.” Boaters can also anchor in the river to watch that night’s fireworks display.

▪ Honor Flight Duck Deploy. Organizers hope to sell and deploy up to 10,000 rubber ducks as a fundraiser for flights that take aging veterans to Washington, D.C. The ducks will be launched from the Douglas Avenue Bridge.

“This is the nine days of the year when we really get on our river and enjoy it, and we’re excited about that,” Jarvis said.

If You Go

Wet Your Pallet Raft Race

When: 2 p.m. June 6

Location: Douglas Avenue Bridge

Cardboard Regatta

When: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday

Location: Douglas Avenue Bridge

Paddle Battle Kayak Races

When: 2:30-4:30 p.m. June 6

Location: Douglas Avenue Bridge

Riverfest Flotilla

When: 10:15 p.m. June 6

Honor Flight Duck Deploy

When: Noon June 6

Location: Douglas Avenue Bridge