Calling all river-lovers: On July 24 and 25, the Androscoggin Riverfest is coming to the Lewiston-Auburn area, promising two days filled with river-based activities for those who participate.

“Our region is centered with two cities at the heart, and between them sits the Androscoggin River,” said Shanna Cox, President and CEO of the L/A Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “The river flows through the heart of our communities as activity and engagement on the river sends lifeblood through our downtowns and economy.”

“The Androscoggin River is a natural resource that we have, for centuries, clustered business and community life and activity around. Holding placemaking events along the river- in both cities- supports foot traffic for local businesses, showcases a river that has become cleaner and can be used for recreating, and promotes the location as part of our region’s overall quality of life and economy,” Cox added. 

Last summer, the L/A Metro Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Androscoggin Land Trust (ALT) for the ALT RiverRace. Ultimately, the race did not happen due to the pandemic. 

This summer, members of the community can look forward to two different events on Saturday, July 24th, and Sunday, July 25th: the Riverfest Regatta and the 2021 RiverRace. 

Saturday features a celebration of the very first Riverfest Regatta in the L/A area. Lewiston Rowing is partnering with the City of Lewiston, Merrymeeting Community Rowing Association, Tree Street Youth, and Healthy Neighborhoods to bring an exhibition regatta to the Androscoggin River’s shores at Simard-Payne park. 

“We’re having our first ever downtown rowing regatta, which is so cool by itself,” said Amy Smith, the organizer of the Riverfest Regatta. “The river has always sort of taken the short end of the stick, you know. People look down on it when it’s really this gem for both cities, and important for economic development.”

The Regatta runs from 7 a.m. to noon and will be followed by a “Try a Boat” event at Simard-Park, as well as music, a beer garden, a food truck, vendors, and even a twilight movie. 

On Sunday, the ALT and the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber are hosting the 2021 RiverRace, which will take place at the Simard-Payne park and Auburn boat ramp from 7:30 a.m. to noon. 

There are three race course options: the Family Fun Paddle, the Falls Run, and the LA Scavenger. 

Peter Rubins, chairman of the Grow L+A’s River Working Group, described the river’s transformation over the past fifty years: from unusable to perfect for recreational use today. 

“The impression that most people have of the river is that it was once terribly polluted,” Rubins said. “Fifty years ago, it was an open sewer. People remember that. Events like this give people a re-image of the river. Since Muskie was our senator, he introduced the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Events like this encourage people to understand that what Muskie started is actually coming to fruition.” 

He said Friends of Casco Bay, Androscoggin River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, and the cities of Lewiston and Auburn are currently working in coalition to reclassify part of the river from class C to class B. 

“The bill [Maine Senate Bill 676] hopes to create a better image of the river,” Rubins continued. “That’s what this river celebration is about: increasing river recreation.”

Six organizations are partners for the success of the river, including the Androscoggin Land Trust, L/A Metro Chamber of Commerce, Lewiston Community Rowing, the Androscoggin River Watershed Council, the City of Lewiston, and the City of Auburn.

The main participants of this event are Lewiston Rowing, Tree Street Youth, the L/A Chamber of Commerce, the Androscoggin Land Trust, and the Cities of Lewiston and Auburn. 

After a year of pandemic-induced isolation and cancelled events, the hope is that people will come to the event and enjoy themselves.

“We modified the event because of COVID,” Smith said. “I’m just really looking forward to people having fun, being outside, and getting out on the river and enjoying it. For everybody to enjoy it, whether you’re on the river or just watching, because it’s designed to be very spectator friendly.”

For Cox, the outdoors aspect of the event might be one of its greatest appeals.

“I hope [people] remember seeing the river activated and realize this is a great place to paddle, walk, throw a frisbee and more,” she said. “Our big hope is that folks are able to see the river and the three riverside parks as something they can use and frequent year-round.”

Those who are interested can look forward to future river-based events as well. For example, Lewiston Rowing is sponsoring a community “Touch a Boat” barbecue and a water safety event on June 29. The goal, Smith says, is to get folks in the downtown community interested in the river and to understand how to be safe around the water.

Visit https://androscogginlandtrust.org/events/ for the latest updates on the River Race and Paddle After Hours and https://lewistonrowing.com/riverfest-regatta for updates on the Riverfest Regatta.

 

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