Celebrating its fifth anniversary Saturday, this year’s Rock the River celebration of the Rappahannock Watershed is expected to draw 3,000 guests who will be introduced to a bevy of nature-related and community organizations and enjoy outdoor exploration, entertainment and activities for all ages.

“The event promotes a sense of community and family and can serve as an introduction for kids to the wonders of the great outdoors and hands-on discovery,” said Will Gravatt of Gravatt Entertainment—one of the five coordinators of this year’s festival, along with the Virginia Outdoor Center, the American Canoe Association, Fred Events and Spencer Devon Brewing.

The event’s Kids’ Zone will feature demonstrations and an opportunity for children to test their skills on a rock climbing wall and a course of Parkour challenges. In addition, there will be face painting, hula hoops, a cornhole toss, and a rock painting station hosted by Michelle Flynn of Wine and Design, who is coordinating the special features for children.

“We will provide the paints and some decorations, but the kids will be finding their own rocks at the riverside. They can tuck their creations in special places throughout the city to spread the joy and bring a smile to the people who find them,” said Flynn.

Among the more than 60 community organizations that will participate in this year’s Rock the River are the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the Friends of the Rappahannock. Folks from the library will introduce their Adventure Packs—backpacks focused on outdoor exploration, including tools, books and suggested activities—that families are welcomed to check out. They will also provide information on their Summer Lunch events and Summer Reading program for all ages. On behalf of Friends of the Rappahannock, Bess Muldrow will display her fairy-home “toad houses,” seven of which will be placed in scenic areas throughout Fredericksburg. Composed of recyclable materials, the little houses can serve as shelters for reptiles, amphibians and birds and can raise awareness of the importance of preserving nature. In addition, the R-Board and Clean and Green Commission will host activities related to recycling and protecting the environment, including a trailer with interactive displays.

Families can enjoy live music from noon to 8 p.m. and may want to take an opportunity to participate in one of the three Odyssey Challenges, designed by John Garmon of the Virginia Outdoor Center, which will make their debut this year. Participants in these scavenger hunts will be given a “passport” with a map highlighting five selected locations throughout the city and watershed and will set out by foot, bike or kayak/canoe to find each. When they complete the course, they can submit their passports, with stamps from each site, to enter competition for trophies and prizes.

The Run for the River race will begin at 8:15 a.m. with registration opening at 7:30 a.m. The array of activities throughout the day include paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing for those who bring their own equipment, as well as a white-water rafting race that guests can watch from the River Bluffs at noon.

All those who have worked together diligently for months to produce Rock the River are advocates of outdoor ventures as family bonding and enriching opportunities.

“When they are out in nature together, parents and children are in the same position as explorers,” said Garmon. “You don’t need a driver’s license to walk a trail and everyone can climb a tree or get their feet wet in the water. How great is it when a kid asks a parent a question and they explore together to find the answer?”

“It’s important for kids to have an experience where they feel connected to nature,” said Konrad Heller of Fred Events. “When they feel connected, they will care about the outdoors and want to do what they can to preserve and protect it. Much of today’s technology keeps kids indoors but it’s important for them to get out and experience nature and get dirty. Even kids’ development can be promoted by being in nature.”

“Being outdoors makes you feel the essence of life and makes you feel that you are part of the world and that the earth is your home,” said Flynn. “By engaging with nature, you find your own spirit and voice in it!”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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