LEWISTON — The sun was out, the wind was still and the breeze was cool at 8 a.m. Saturday, perfect conditions to kick off the second of three days of festivities for the first-ever Lewiston/Auburn Riverfest.

The celebration of all things Androscoggin River, hosted by the cities of Lewiston and Auburn and several community partners, began Friday afternoon with Tree Street Youth’s 10th anniversary celebration at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston.

By 8 a.m. Saturday, it was off to the races for rowers at the Riverfest Regatta which was hopefully another tradition in the making, organizer Amy Smith said.

“It was awesome. Weather was great. The whole rowing community turned out. The volunteers were magnificent,” said Smith, who previously coached at Yarmouth Community Rowing and helped start Lewiston Rowing, a community rowing association, just a few weeks ago.

“I couldn’t be happier, and I think we had a great time. There were a (few) hiccups here and there, but we’ll learn and hopefully we can do it again next year.”

Members of the Community Rowing Association from Portland pull in unison Saturday as they head up the Androscoggin River during the Riverfest Regatta. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Smith said she started talking to the city last November about doing a small demonstration on the river. But as COVID-19 abated and the world began opening again, interest grew, and a tiny gathering turned into a three-day event that included the regatta on Saturday and the Androscoggin Land Trust and Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s River Race on Sunday.

“Once the rowing community heard that there was a race — like a new race — they were all in,” Smith said. “So, we had 35 boats here today.”

Clubs from across Maine and as far away as Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out Saturday for more than 40 single, double and quad scull time trial races.

Smith herself rowed in one boat with other members of Lewiston Rowing, a newly formed community club, and coxswained for another boat rowed by her daughter, Emily, and three more.

A couple of hours into the races, the crowd at Simard-Payne Memorial Park grew to about 50. Members of Portland-based Taiko Maine Dojo played Japanese percussion drums, their booming beats urging rowers across the finish line.

Racers move to the start line prior to one of Saturday’s races on the Androscoggin River during the inaugural Riverfest Regatta. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

‘A GREAT RESOURCE’

Alex Pine moved to Lewiston from Portland about a year ago and met one of Riverfest’s organizers at a farmers’ market. He took the chance to bring the group to the festival: “I wanted to get more involved in the community.”

Lewiston Public Works Director Mary Ann Brenchick was filled with excitement.

“This is our own little Olympics!” she exclaimed.

Brenchick was born in the same town as U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie, who was instrumental in passing the Clean Air and Clean Water acts of the 1970s.

Growing up in Rumford, Brenchick said she remembers the days when the Androscoggin was a “brown foam; stinky, smelly” and a far cry from what it’s like today.

“It’s a great resource. It’s a stress reliever. It’s right here; you don’t have to drive anywhere,” Brenchick said.

Bates rowing team member Robert Sobolewski grimaces Saturday as he pulls hard on his oars heading into the final leg of the Riverfest Regatta on the Androscoggin River. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Peter Rubins, Grow L+A’s River Working Group chairperson, 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.

That change, proposed in Maine Senate Bill 676, would bar any discharges into the water that could adversely affect its habitat. A class C classification, its current one, allows some discharges that “may cause some changes to aquatic life,” with some exceptions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The bill hopes to create a better image of the river,” Rubins said. “That’s what this river celebration is about: increasing river recreation.”

People find take cover in some shade while they listen Saturday afternoon to a band play at Simard-Payne Memorial Park during the first annual Lewiston-Auburn Riverfest. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, is being held in committee until the next legislative session.

Saturday’s festivities weren’t just about the rowers, though: Four food trucks and a lineup of bands fed and entertained the dry land observers. There was also a beer garden featuring Baxter Brewing Co. from Lewiston and Side By Each Brewing Co. and Lost Valley Brewing Co., both from Auburn. A twilight movie rounded out the evening.

Leah Hersom from South Paris brought her kids — Zoey, 12, and Eli, 10 — out to see their dad, Nick, play the mandolin and guitar in a local band.

“I was really excited that they could come, too, and we could see him play,” Hersom said. “We were really excited to be able to finally see him live and it’s such a perfect day for it.”

The walking trestle between Bonney Park in Auburn and Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston is the perfect vantage point to view Saturday’s Riverfest Regatta. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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