As one of the biggest weekends in Buena Vista, the Memorial Day holiday is host to the town’s ultimate river festival: Paddlefest.
Over the past 18 years, the evolution and growth of this whitewater festival has been dubbed the kickoff to summer.
With roots beginning in Silverthorne, as homage to ski films and exhibition propaganda, event originators were looking to do a similar promotion of paddle sports with big dreams in mind.
Founders Earl and Cheryl Richmond and Chad and Heather Gorby moved their paddle festival to Buena Vista after their purchase of CKS, allowing Paddlefest to transition into the fun-filled weekend it is today.
Though CKS Mainstreet is still the event’s headquarters, this four-day festival now offers events and activities for the entire family, whether as spectators or a part of the action.
Two years ago, the new owners of CKS, Brad and Megan Kingman, took over the reins but continue to bring the town to life through Paddlefest with the same heartfelt mindset.
Though the river and all its glory are still the center of the festival, besides just the whitewater competitions and gear expos, the weekend now includes live music, local vendor courtyards and beer gardens, kids’ events, demos and education and running competitions as well as a variety of flatwater additions.
Unlike most whitewater festivals, Paddlefest is designed to captivate all ages and allow novice boaters to mingle with pros in a comfortable atmosphere set in a breathtaking location.
The celebration is all about creating opportunities for people to learn about something new while experiencing these sports at their most prestigious level.
“It is not just for paddlers,” Earl Richmond said. “It’s for any age and any ability level and it’s a draw to get people to learn about paddle sports and to watch the pros, but also be a part of the action.
“We wanted to add this whole educational and demo side that gives anyone the opportunity to learn or experience paddle sports in a safe environment.
“We are definitely exposing and promoting all our wonderful local resources as well,” he said. “By involving nearby lakes, reservoirs and creeks, we are showing the versatility of the sports and the area.”
As with any successful event, Paddlefest requires year-round attention and a gang of volunteers so that each working component realizes the potential it can provide to festival goers. Team members are always trying to find new additions to bring to the celebration each year.
Keeping up with current trends, new events include paddle fitness classes, kayak fishing and river trip education.
However, a major aspect of the festival, Richmond said, is being able to give proceeds back to local nonprofits and agencies such as Boys & Girls Club and Chaffee County Search and Rescue.
“This year we are trying to keep an eye on one of the features that makes this place so amazing, which is our local river park. It is a prized possession for BV, and it started off as a one-feature in-stream location for kayakers, and over the past 14 years it has evolved into a five-feature river park.”
Richmond said it not only allows for in-stream recreational opportunities but also offers something for everyone. This includes great trails for hiking, river access for the public, fishing locations and a great place to just hang out and enjoy time in the mountains.
Paddlefest Memorial Day weekend in Buena Vista is always circled on the calendar because of the reunion of like-minded people it attracts and all the excitement it can provide for paddle-lovers new and old.