For the past decade, Northern California's North Fork of American of the River and its Auburn Whitewater Park has been mostly passed over by the area boating community. More often than not, lock gates and difficult access or several miles of flat-water paddling have made passing through the decommissioned dam site and man-made rapids less than ideal for paddlers.
However, the Auburn River Festival team wants to change all that by showcasing that portion of the river and its waterpark.
“We want to celebrate the beauty of the American River,” said Alex Wolfgram, the director of Auburn River Festival told The Mountain Democrat,“This is a festival to make people aware of the whitewater park and a celebration of a free-flowing river on the site of a decommissioned dam that’s been repurposed for recreation.”
Who doesn't love a whitewater festival? Last weekend's event brought together some 60 whitewater paddlers from throughout the region to compete in a variety of river competitions. For spectators, it was a free community party, that also featured six live bands, food vendors, community information booths, a silent auction and activities for kids.
The main attraction, of course, was the river. Located downstream from the North Fork and Middle Fork confluence at the former dam's foundation, the whitewater park features a continuous series of five man-made drops that become increasingly difficult from start to bottom. A special release was negotiated with the Placer County Water Agency provided an extra surge for surfing waves.
For whitewater boaters, the Auburn River Festival was special. It was an excuse to see the old crew and meet new friends, paddle a new stretch river, catch some big water and simply celebrate the act of kayaking.
The festival had three traditional kayaking competitions including a downriver race, slalom races, an Olympic event and the fan favorite, whitewater rodeo, giving everyone a taste of the river.
"The water park was really fun," said Scheder, "I don't live that far away, I wish it were open more. You can surf all the waves. You can practice your salmon. There are not many salomon courses around so it's really cool. It was really fun and I'm really happy!"
Festival organizers look toward the future hoping to make this celebration an annual event to help create awareness of the recreational opportunities in the Auburn State Recreation Area.
"We had a great turn out today," said Wolfgram, "I say maybe 1,000 people. It was a lot of work, but it's great for getting people together to help protect the river. Hopefully, we can have a successful event like this in the years to come."
All the profits from Auburn River Festival will be donated to Protect American River Canyons (PARC) whose organizational mission is to "protect the natural, recreational, and cultural resources of the North and Middle Fork American River Canyons for all to care for and enjoy." For more information on the Auburn River Festival check out AuburnRiverFestival.com