For the past few months, Special Collections staff and interns have been processing papers received last year from RiverLink, an organization that for over thirty years has promoted and revitalized the French Broad River in Asheville. The papers are now available for researchers, and Allyson Alvis, one of the interns who processed the papers, has taken a look at some of the “fun” aspects of RiverLink’s activities.
RiverLink was conceived in 1986 as a way to increase tourism and get tourists more involved in the area around the French Broad River while they were in Asheville. Karen Cragnolin helped officially establish RiverLink in 1987, and the organization began their quest of improving the French Broad, which Asheville citizens had been treating as a dumping ground for decades. RiverLink hoped to achieve this by creating new riverparks, and by hosting events to generate community interest in preserving and improving their river.
One early rendition of such events was “Fall in Love with the French Broad”, a fund-raiser typically held in night clubs, and celebrating the river and featuring costumes and elaborate performances. The tradition started in the early 1990s, along with other small-scale fundraisers and clean ups.
One of RiverLink’s biggest events is their annual RiverFest, which has been an ongoing tradition since the 1980’s. RiverFest has changed slightly over the years and grown substantially, but overall it stayed true to its original conception and overall goal. It was, and still is, designed as a fundraiser for the environmental and economic revitalization of the French Broad River, and as a way to encourage people to participate in the French Broad itself.
Since it is held at the Salvage Station, the proximity to the river encourages direct participation between the people and the area they are supporting, more directly than other events. Additionally, the array of activities help people engage directly with both the French Broad and RiverLink.
While there are plenty of activities at RiverFest, the most popular is the “Anything that Floats Boat Parade,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Participants are encouraged to show up in costume with decorated boats, or just as themselves with a kayak, with the goal be having fun along the river.
This means that the parade has everything from friends and family in a raft, to businesses using flags and signs as promotion as they float down the river, to floats made of empty beer kegs or oil drums and a boat shaped like a dragon and manned by a group of vikings. As long as it can make it down the river, any “boat” is allowed in.
For the competition itself, participants are encouraged to build the most outrageous contraption they can, and dress up for the occasion. At the end of the parade, there are winners for: creativity, ingenuity, best depiction of the category, and team spirit.
People who would rather not get in the river, cheer on the participants and take part in other activities on the shore, as there are many ways to participate and the event comes with a full day of activities; there are live musical performances, aerial silks and dog competitions, and children’s activities, like face painting. There are also lots of options for local food, beer, and other vendors to interact with throughout the festivities.
All of these events not only serves as great fundraisers for the river, but create a better sense of community and help get citizens more connected with it. As more people care about the French Broad, they will be more dedicated to developing and preserving it.
Allyson Alvis, Special Collections Intern