A Kids Fun Run and a nationally touring memorial to honor fallen firefighters will make their Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival debut at this year's event Friday-July 20.
And the most buzzed-about new event at the fest isn't technically new. It's the Raft Race, making its TRF return July 20 after a 15-year hiatus.
Jack Hammer, TRF executive director, previewed the nine-day festival, now in its 45th year:
A combination of insurance woes, declining attendance and a bit of an image problem sank the Raft Race back in 1998, but a persistent spirit to bring back the event combined with financial backing from Bruce Dye of Hotel Fitness and Bill Bean of Hanning and Bean Enterprises revived the race for 2013.
Spectators will notice a new course on the St. Marys River, increased safety measures and larger cash prizes for contestants, but the spirit of fun on the river will still persist, Hammer said. The race begins at 11 a.m.
“You get to see views and vistas of Fort Wayne that you've never seen before,” he added.
The raft race is just one of dozens of festival events, 80 percent of which are free.
Other new events
The nationally-touring Remembrance Rescue will make a stop at the fest 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday on Duck Street, adjacent to Food Alley at Headwaters Park, Clinton and Superior streets. The mobile memorial was formed by firefighters who wanted to restore, preserve and share the Fire Department of New York's Rescue 4 and Rescue 5 fire engines to educate the public and to honor firefighters' sacrifice on Sept. 11 and every day.
The vehicles tour across the U.S., ushered by volunteering firefighters. They are welcomed by local fire departments that coordinate educational and memorial events. The two fire engines are the only operational fire vehicles from 9/11 now outside of New York City.
Also new this year, thanks to a partnership between TRF and Parkview Health, is the Kids Fun Run. The aim of the non-timed run is for youth ages 5-12 to burn off energy while learning about ways to eat healthy and stay active.
Youngsters can participate in the run 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. July 20 near the mastodon statue on the IPFW campus, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.
Hammer said, while he never liked participating in sports as a kid, his experience taught him a few things about getting kids active.
“I kind of realized why I didn't like to do those things was because I didn't have a win in my column,” he said. “We wanted to put a win in their column for those kids.”
All who finish the fest will receive a medal for their participation.
Many of the festival's events are simply meant to be fun, but some, like the Fun Run, do have a larger purpose.
“We want people to have a good party, but there are things we do that are for higher ideals,” Hammer said, noting the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the cultural connections that come from the International Village.
Traditional staples of TRF also are making their return, including the Parade, Bed Race, Food Alley, downtown midway and closing fireworks show.
Marching bands, vintage cars and festive floats will kick off the fest 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday in a parade through 2 miles of downtown Fort Wayne. This year's theme is “Made Here,” celebrating northeast Indiana pride.
Trophies will be awarded in six different categories for both commercial and non-commercial entries. The parade, sponsored by Lutheran Health Network, as in years past begins on Van Buren Street by St. Joseph Hospital, goes east along Main and Berry streets, and ends along Calhoun Street. Arrive a few hours early for a prime viewing spot.
The revival of the raft race won't effect Water Wars from 12-4 p.m. July 20 on the St. Marys River at the Wells Street bridge. Three-person teams will battle with water balloons and slingshots. The event began in 2011 as way to cool off festivalgoers while showcasing the city's rivers.
The sights, smells and tastes of 10 different cultures will enliven the International Village from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 19-20 in the Club Soda parking lot, 235 E. Superior St., next to Food Alley.
“We can learn about our neighbors while learning about our own heritage,” Hammer said.
With free admission, visitors will take part in a trip around the world, witnessing dancing, storytelling, crafting and cooking from lands both near and far.
As with any large-scale event, security is always a priority.
Between the numerous city, county and federal police and security personnel on site, in addition to plainclothes officers and additional security TRF hires, Hammer believes the public should feel secure at the fest.
“We can't live in fear of Boston, of those types of events,” Hammer said. “We have to live proudly and cautiously.”
TRF happens largely because of the financial backing of many sponsors. These donors aren't motivated by an expected boost in business, but rather because they know the value of the event, Hammer said.
“They do it because they know the community needs things like the Three Rivers Festival,” Hammer said. “Three Rivers Festival makes Fort Wayne a better place. The fest has been there and continues to be a part of Fort Wayne.”