the history of riverfest

wabash river history lafayette indiana

Riverfest was conceived by the late Chuck Weis as an event that would bring attention to the Wabash River and its potential as a centerpiece of the local community.  He presented the concept to the Wabash River Parkway Commission, of which he was a member, and volunteered to chair the inaugural event.  The first Riverfest was held on Saturday, August 25, 2001.  The main attraction was the racing of 42-foot long dragon boats. Within a few years, Riverfest was permanently scheduled on the second Saturday of July each year.

Eventually, local reenactment brigades offered Voyageur Canoes to replace the dragon boats.  The Voyageur Canoes offered the advantage of associating the race with our area’s 17th Century fur trading history.  And, their smaller capacity allowed teams of nine paddlers instead of 20, making participant recruitment easier.

When the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation (WREC) was established, the Parkway Commission moved under its umbrella and focused on river awareness and education.  As a result, WREC inherited Riverfest, which it continues to sponsor. WREC purchased two brand new Voyageur Canoes for the Riverfest boat race in 2009.

Within the next two years, Riverfest founder Chuck Weis and longtime Parkway Commission member Paula Woods passed away.  The new Voyageur Canoes were subsequently named in their honor, to recognize their contributions to the development of Riverfest and the river tours program.

Today, Wabash Riverfest serves as a fitting celebration of the Wabash River and the potential it offers the Greater Lafayette community.  It highlights WREC’s riverfront development and watershed quality initiatives.  And, it serves as an information fair, providing a venue for organizations with related missions to educate and raise awareness of their efforts to improve the quality of life in the Greater Lafayette area.