From the crowded beaches of the 1930s to the raft races lasting into the 1990s, Fort Wayne's rivers were once popular places for rest and recreation.
But a 2010 survey conducted by City Utilities staff indicates 73 percent of respondents no longer use Fort Wayne rivers for recreational purposes.
The second annual RiverGames on the St. Marys River begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, reviving the rivers' past with hopes of expanding their role in Fort Wayne's future.
Like last year's event, the 2012 RiverGames include the Great Canoe Race, the Summit City Soaker canoe obstacle course and the Water Wars with balloon launchers.
Hall's Restaurant is catering food, and Mad Anthony Brewing Company is providing a beer garden.
But this year, multiple RiverGames events are happening simultaneously to tighten up the schedule, according to Three Rivers Festival Executive Director Jack Hammer.
Children are encouraged to bring squirt guns because 50-gallon barrels of water will be provided for them to play with during downtime.
“Our goal is to raise awareness for rivers and bring commerce to rivers, but at the same time, we want to leave the rivers better than we found them,” said Hammer, adding that all water balloons are latex and will be picked up with butterfly nets after they are used.
“If events happening on the rivers don't show how much we love and take care of them, then bringing commerce to rivers doesn't make sense,” Hammer said.
Despite the drought, river expert Dan Wire says the RiverGames will have plenty of water to sustain boating and activities because the river pool in downtown Fort Wayne is impounded by the Hosey Dam.
Wire says river levels are normal, ranging from about 12 feet to 4 feet, which makes them deep enough and cool enough to avoid algae blooms.
Although participants will be boating on the rivers, most of the RiverGames use water provided by the Fort Wayne fire department, according to Hammer.
The Great Canoe Race from the Wells Street Bridge to the Spy Run Bridge and back begins with registration and an optional paddling class at 10 a.m. The race starts at noon with prizes for speed, best decorated canoe, ugliest canoe and best costumes.
Teams can participate for $10 per paddler. They can rent canoes for $20 or bring their own.
For the Summit City Soaker, canoe paddlers race through an obstacle course to retrieve flags from the Wells Street Bridge to the Harrison Street Bridge where they have to throw a water balloon through a hula hoop before racing back to the Wells Street Bridge.
The Water Wars consist of two three-person teams on 25-foot pontoons who launch water balloons at each other across 50 feet of the St. Marys River.
Winners of the events receive cash prizes and trophies. Hammer says there is a special traveling trophy for the police and fire department teams.
Along with promoting a healthier river, Hammer hopes the RiverGames will help expose locals to new views of the city.
“It's a great way to see parts of Fort Wayne you've never seen before,” said Hammer, who became an advocate for Fort Wayne rivers after broadcasting on them for more than 10 years with 98.9 the Bear (WNBR, 98.9-FM) and WXTW (102.3-FM).
When Hammer became Three Rivers Festival executive director in June 2010, he joined forces with other river enthusiasts to push for more events in and around the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers, which led to the creation of RiverGames last year.
Hammer would like to see the city's use of the three rivers continue to grow with more waterfront restaurants and a safe revival of the raft race, which ended in 1996 because of concerns about water pollutants.
“Theses rivers are the reason why this town is here,” Hammer said. “We need to make sure we have strong, fun river events good for the family and safe for everyone.”