Free Riverfest fun in Columbia Park will celebrate the Tri-Cities rivers and the dams

The great quality of life that the Columbia and Snake rivers provide to Tri-Citians can easily be taken for granted, say Riverfest organizers.

Riverfest will be “a big party” so the Tri-Cities can celebrate the rivers and and their benefits, said Rachel Little, coordinator of this weekend’s event.

The free festival is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Lampson pits at the east end of Kennewick’s Columbia Park along the Columbia River.

Music, a giant salmon sculpture that kids and adults can walk inside, kayaking for children, a chance to meet a mermaid, a popular inflatable fish slide and more are planned.

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Some 75 booths with free activities and information are planned for RiverFest 2019 on Saturday in Kennewick. Courtesy RiverFest

This is the second year that a variety of community organizations have come together to put on the festival, adding more booths and activities this year.

Organizers include the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, city of Richland, Tri-City-area electric utilities, conservation districts, ports and agriculture organizations.

Rivers benefit Tri-Cities

Activities and information are geared around the ways Tri-Citians enjoy and benefit from its rivers.

“We all like to go to the river to recreate” whether it is paddling, waterskiing, jet skiing, throwing a stick in the river for a dog to chase or just putting our toes in the water, Little said.

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Children can dress up in provided costumes at RiverFest in Kennewick Saturday. Meghan Rickard Courtesy Riverfest

And the Mid-Columbia region pays some of the lowest electric rates in the nation, thanks largely to hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

In Benton County, 80 percent of the electricity used is generated by hydropower, Little said.

The rivers, through irrigation and transportation, also play a key role in the 30 percent of the jobs in Benton County related to agriculture.

Also, the Columbia River is the third largest grain-export gateway in the world, and the barging keeps thousands of semi-trucks off Mid-Columbia highways.

The festival comes as the decline of the iconic southern resident orca whale population has led to increased interest in tearing down the four lower Snake River dams. Orcas feed on chinook salmon.

Supporters of the dams say that Snake River salmon are not the problem for orcas, as a record number of adult chinook salmon returned on the Snake and Columbia rivers this decade. Loss of habitat and a population explosion of seals and sea lions that feed on chinook are a far larger problem, they say.

Information about salmon will be available at RiverFest.

“We want people to learn things and have a good time, too,” Little said.

Riverfest will start with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., speaking at the park’s entertainment stage. And Miss Tri-Cities will sing the national anthem.

Free french fries at Columbia Park

The Spillway will be singing folk music — likely including Roll On Columbia — and the Mid-Columbia Musical Theater plans performances.

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Blue Mountain Wildlife will be bringing birds of prey to RiverFest Saturday in Pasco. Courtesy RiverFest

Lamb Weston will be cooking up free french fries, and food trucks also will be at the park.

Fin, a 25-foot fiberglass sculpture, will be on-hand for people who want to go inside to see the hidden mural.

A maze with salmon information will be set up for families to wander. Blue Mountain Wildlife will have live birds of prey to show.

A “mermaid” has been invited to wander the park, and younger children can dress up in supplied costumes for parades.

The wheat-kernel filled 12-by-12-foot play box will be back for children to dig through.

Boats also will be on display, including a water-spraying Coast Guard fire safety boat and a tug boat that will be cruising back and forth on the Columbia River.

Local agencies will be at the park with information at 75 booths on topics such as electric cars, the ice age floods and other river and conservation topics.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.