The launch of the annual Wichita Riverfest — a nine-day party that fills downtown Wichita with fun, music and funnel cakes — is now less than three weeks away.
And this year, there will be some significant changes to some of the festival’s marquee events. One is the first big route change for the opening-night Sundown Parade in years. Another is the incorporation and relocation of an eye-catching carnival that was formerly a festival outlier. Another is the addition of a new race to the River Run.
First, the parade.
The opening-night event, one of the festival’s best attended, has for many decades included a trek down Douglas, right in front of the main food court at Century II. But this year, festival organizers have drastically changed the parade route. Instead of starting on Main, turning west onto Douglas, then turning north onto Waco, this year, the parade will skip Douglas and won’t go down Waco at all — information that families who have traditional parade spots they always claim early will need to know.
Instead, the parade will start at Second and Main and keep going south past Douglas all the way to English, where it will turn east for a block then turn back north onto Market, finishing at Second and Market.
The new route will go past the old public library on Main, and that’s where the staging area well be — where the judges sit to watch the floats and the parade announcer is stationed.
The decision to change the route was inspired by several concerns, said Mary Beth Jarvis, who is in her eighth and final year as the event’s President and CEO. One was security.
In the recent past, the entire festival footprint has been gated off for the duration of the event, but Douglas always had to stay open on the first night to accommodate the parade. The new parade route is entirely outside the gated area.
“As we’ve moved to more securely close Douglas and Waterman for the duration of the festival, the gap in that has been that first Friday,” Jarvis said. “We basically don’t tighten up our festival ground until after the first day of the festival, which is not optimal.”
Also not optimal: The difficulty the parade has caused for people trying to check into the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview on opening night, when its main doors were blocked for the parade. The change will make life easier for the hotel, Jarvis said.
It also should make the parade more comfortable in general. The evening sun would always beat down on the throngs of people gathered on Douglas between Main and Waco for the parade, turning it into “a giant oven with no shade,” Jarvis said. The new route is lined with tall buildings that will block parade goers from the sun.
“Efficiency will be gained,” she said. “And shade.”
There will also be some changes to the Ottaway Amusements carnival that’s always operated on the outskirts of the festival in the Lawrence Dumont Stadium parking lot.
Many people didn’t know that the carnival, always a visual clue to people driving on Kellogg that something big was happening downtown, wasn’t actually a part of the festival at all. Ottaway Amusements has run the carnival for at least 25 years, always timing it to appeal to festival crowds.
This year, however, Lawrence-Dumont and its former parking lot are a big, flat construction site and clearly not available for carnival rides. So the festival reached out to Ottaway about the possibility of relocating the rides into the festival footprint and making the carnival an official part of the event.
They agreed, and at this year’s festival, the carnival will be set up in a parking lot on William between Broadway and Topeka. Instead of paying a $3 gate fee and then paying for rides like they had in the past, carnival attendees will now be able to get through the carnival gate with their festival buttons.
Once inside the gate, riders will pay $3.50 for most rides. They can get 10 tickets for $30 or 30 for $85. Wrist bands good for a session of unlimited rides are $28 a person, and sessions are from 1 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday; from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 6 to 11 p.m. both Fridays; and from 1 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. both Saturdays.
This year, the festival also will have a big Ferris wheel set up and operating, separate from the carnival. It will be near the Red Guard Stage area, by the Wichita WaterWalk. Ferris wheel rides are $3.50.
Another big change this year will happen with the 24th annual River Run, a popular race that’s always part of the festival’s first Saturday. This year, it’s on June 1.
Traditionally, the run has included a 2-mile fun run and a 10K. But now the festival is adding another option — a timed 5K. This year, the 10K and the 5K will be the two chipped and timed races. The two mile walk/jog will be just for fun.
“There’s a growing 5K running culture, and one of the things the 2-mile did was serve as an entry level sort of race, particularly for kids,” Jarvis said. “But we now see more and more of the kids doing 5Ks. And we did hear feedback from adults who said, ‘Is two miles worth putting on the running shoes?’ So we’re trying to find a distance that fits the most number of people.”
To register for the River Run, visit wichitariverfest.com. Online registration ends at 11:59 p.m. on May 27.
The Wichita Riverfest will happen May 31 through June 8 in downtown Wichita. Buttons are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 and available at QuikTrip stores and at the festival office, 444 E. William.