Wichita River Festival - Wichita, Kansas
The Windwagon with Admiral Windwagon Smith and the Schooner Mates
History of the Wichita River Festival
One of the most exciting times around Wichita, Kansas happens in the late spring – the Wichita River Festival. The Wichita River Festival – or Riverfest, as it is familiarly known – began as a way to honor the city for its centennial celebration in 1970. In 1972 Wichita Festivals was started and held the Wichitennial River Festival and Traders Day. It was started as a way to bring the entire city together to celebrate the Arkansas River. (And since we are in Kansas it is pronounced the Ar-Kansas river – not Ar-kan-saw…just so you know!)
Originally the fee for the Riverfest was a one dollar button. This button got you into all of the events – the bathtub races, the Moonlight parade on the river, the bike races, and all of the other events. That first year, nearly 2,000 buttons were sold. Since Wichita Festivals wanted to make this an annual event, they felt they needed to get corporate sponsors, to go along with the public paying for the buttons. Local banks and businesses helped to sponsor the Riverfest after that – and continue to do so today.
In 1974, Admiral Windwagon Smith was added to the festival. He was based on a little known Disney cartoon character who hitched a sail onto his prairie schooner and let the wind take him where he needed to go. Each year a worthy citizen and Riverfest volunteer is chosen to be the Admiral. The Admiral goes on tour promoting the Riverfest and all of its events. A few years later, Schooner mates were added – these were high school students who helped the Admiral promote the festival.
By the early 1980’s button sales soared to nearly 60,000. They were still sold for one dollar and with the button you could now enjoy ten days worth of activities, including concerts with well-known stars. The festival was becoming more and more popular and was becoming the place to be in Wichita during the spring.
In the early 1990’s button sales increased to $2. Wichitans still felt this was a bargain and still flocked by the thousands to enjoy all of the events by the river. Events now included and arts and craft show, a pow wow at the local Indian center, concerts by the dozens and many, many family events. Some of the most popular events continued to be the River Run – a 10k race and 2k family walk and the fireworks accompanied by the Twilight Pops concert on the final night of the festival.
Montgomery Gentry At The 2013 Wichita River Festival
Sample Schedule of Events For Wichita River Festival
Friday, May 31
7:30 Admiral's Breakfast
11:00 Paddle Boats
2:00 Helicopter Rides
5:00 Horse Rides
6:30 Sundown Parade
Michael Martin Murphy at the 2013 Wichita River Festival
Over 40 Years of Riverfest
This year marks over 40 years of Riverfest. The button prices have gone up to $5 – but no one complains. This year country music stars Montgomery Gentry will be playing here, there is a carnival, parade, two nights of fireworks, more music than you could ever listen to, a zip-line and more carnival food than you could ever eat – and you get it all for the $5 button. (Well, the food is extra, but everything else is included in the price of the button!)
I have enjoyed the Riverfest since its meager beginnings. When my children were small, it was cheap entertainment and we could always find something fun to do. This year I am planning on introducing my grandchildren to the Riverfest – and hopefully they will enjoy it for years to come!
XLII Wichita River Festival
The Wichita River Festival is in Downtown Wichita, Kansas
Where the action of the Riverfest takes place!
More by this Author
This story was written as if through the eyes of one of my kindergarten students. It tells how his school day feels for him....
If you are ever in downtown Wichita, Kansas, walk by and enjoy the sculptures that are everywhere as you walk.
I love my rose colored glasses - but when I take them off for a minute, I see the social issues that still exist in America. Why does racism still exist?