A boy runs along the banks of the San Antonio River to watch river parade participants float by.
A boy runs to watch participants in the annual San Antonio River Foundation Mission Reach Flotilla Festival in April 2019. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

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Among the third day of Fiesta’s many delights were stars of the 1980s floating in kayaks along the Mission Reach: Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Joe Dirt, and even El Chapulín Colorado, the Mexican insect superhero.

These were not the actual celebrities, of course, but costumed San Antonians participating in the fourth annual Mission Reach Flotilla Fiesta, competing for prizes on a festive, clement Saturday morning.

Notable Texas figures were on hand, however.

“Who would have thought 128 years ago, when we had a parade to thank the folks that were fighting in the battle of San Jacinto, that this would turn into such an 11-day party that 2.5 million people from around the country would come in and participate?” said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), introducing the event to the crowd of 150 gathered on the west shore of the river.

Hurd also pointed out the purpose of the event. “It’s great to help make sure we have this resource for years to come,” he said of the San Antonio River and the $143.7 million Mission Reach redevelopment project.

“This event is a gateway to the Mission Reach,” said Robert Amerman, executive director of the San Antonio River Foundation (SARF), which organizes the annual flotilla event to raise awareness of the river’s role in the city.

The entirety of the 13-mile, $384.1 million San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP) “is the largest urban ecological restoration zone in the country,” Amerman said. “It’s like having three Central Parks in our backyard.

The project is “about habitat restoration, ecosystems, and species diversity,” he said, “so there’s a lot of pollinator-focused plants. So that’s why our royalty for this event are called the River Monarchs.”

(From left) River Monarchs Treva and John Chadwell and Miss Fiesta San Antonio cheer on participants in the river parade.
(From left) River Monarchs Treva and John Chadwell and Miss Fiesta San Antonio Victoria Gonzalez cheer on participants in the river parade. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

John and Treva Chadwell are the 2019 River Monarchs, and both were festooned in bright, sweeping monarch-wing capes and shiny royal scepters. “We love the river, and we’re glad everybody’s here,” John Chadwell announced, with a hearty “¡Viva Fiesta!” to begin the event.

Emcee Cleto Rodriguez, a local comedian and television personality dressed up as Axl Rose, announced each costumed flotilla contestant as they floated by on colorful kayaks provided by Mission Adventure Tours.

The Chadwells, along with SARF board members, were charged with judging the contestants. “It’s a tough competition,” Treva Chadwell said. “People put a lot of thought and effort into [their costumes].”

John Chadwell said he admired the overall effort. “There’s some pretty obscure deep dives,” he said, appreciative of the red-and-yellow Chapulín Colorado character.

Contestants competed in two categories, Dress Up Yourself and Dress Up You and Your Pet. The top prize of $150 in the pet category went to Eddie Diaz, dressed in elaborate Spurs luchador finery, and Precious, his sunglass-wearing Yorkie. The second-place prize of $75 went to Stella Silva as ’80s exercise guru Jane Fonda, with Tree, her ribbon-wearing chihuahua.

Top costume went to Alissa Lockett, one half of the Prince-costumed Purple Rain duo, each with rainbow “Love You” earring pairs. Before the awards were given, Lockett and costume partner Melissa Bryant said they’d use any winnings for next year’s costumes. Second place went to first-time flotilla participant Jesus Archuleta, who watched the Saturday afternoon El Chapulín Colorado cartoon as a child.

“He had heart,” Archuleta said of the early Latino superhero. “You don’t need to have muscles to take down the bad guy, as long as you have heart.”

Archuleta, who resides in Westover Hills on San Antonio’s far West Side, wanted to enjoy kayaking in the mild weather. “Why not come over here and check out this part of town every now and then?” he said. “They’re really doing a lot in this neighborhood.”

Each winner received their checks and a wooden kayak paddle decorated with glittery mini-sombreros, ribbons, and colorful crepe carnations.

Following the ceremony, river kayaking activities included basic instruction for beginners, and a river slalom challenge for experienced kayakers. Throughout the afternoon on the Mission County Park Pavilion grounds, eventgoers wandered through craft tents and enjoyed mini tacos, gorditas, and agua fresca from food and beverage vendors as kids played on the elaborate, shaded play structures.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...