Brace yourselves; Fiesta is coming. Organizers have already begun to promote official and unofficial Fiesta San Antonio events – those that happen during the official 10-day celebration (April 16-26) and those that stretch the party throughout April. This year, the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) is stepping into the ring on Saturday, April 11, with its inaugural Mission Reach Float Fest, a mile-long parade on the Mission Reach for kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards that will include a decorating contest, live music, food trucks, and it wouldn’t be a SARA event without a splash of education.
The event is free and open to the public to participate or observe – but spots for groups or individual floaters is limited to 100 entries. Registration closes on March 27. Visit www.sara-tx.org to check out registration and rules. Even if you don’t own your own vessel, participants are allowed to rent and SARA has a list of approved vendors posted on its website that includes Texas Pack and Paddle, Mission Kayak, and SUPSATX.
“We’ll give that downtown River Walk a run for their money,” said SARA General Manager Susanne Scott during an announcement Friday morning. Once SARA has had three successful, rain-or-shine Float Fests, it will apply to become an official Fiesta event. “Because this is the first year of this event, we’re going to be learning how many people participate and how many people come down – so we (can) make modifications.”
As long as applicants follow the rule of a maximum two people per vessel (one of which must be least over 18), groups can have a whole fleet of participating canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards – within reason. Everyone is required to wear a life jacket.
Elected officials and Fiesta royalty will serve as contest judges, including Precinct 1 County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will serve as the river parade’s grand marshal. The contest categories include Most Creative for both canoe/kayak and paddle board; Green Machine, best use of recycled materials; Funniest; Best Overall; and Grand Marshall’s Choice. Costumes are encouraged. Judges will announce the winners during a ceremony at noon, first place winners will take home an undetermined prize.
“If (you) want to be in it, (you) better hustle quick, because I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of entries,” Wolff said. “This parade is going to really be something special. The decorations that have already been worked up for these floats will give you an idea of what it’s going to be like.”
The mile-long section of the Mission Reach selected for the Float Fest is a slow, meandering section to allow for paddle boards. SARA is finalizing details and will create a map of activities in the coming days.
Local artists, a Boy Scout troop, and a local paddle board vendor were on hand to show off their floats.
The Mission Reach Float Fest will have all the key elements of a downtown parade, except, Scott hopes, the trash.
“We’re going to make sure that people (attach) the decorations to the canoe or kayak (or paddle board),” Scott said. “They can’t have anything dragging into the river, we want to make sure that people have some direction of how to put decorations onto the kayak. And we will also make sure we clean up after the event.”
Participants must also carry a trash bag on their kayaks and canoes and nothing can be thrown from the floats.
Wolff was one of the main driving forces behind the County’s $125 million investment in the Mission Reach and the San Antonio River Improvements Project, which celebrated its grand opening in October 2013. All together, the project that restored eight miles of the San Antonio River cost $245.7 million and was the result of 15 years of planning, politics, and public works with the dedication of multiple mayors, county commissioners, various public agencies, and long-serving citizens. Now that the dust has settled, it seems appropriate to show off this investment during (well, technically a week before) Fiesta, San Antonio’s most popular citywide party.
“We continue to find ecological treasures,” Wolff said. “Recently a team of engineers from the County and SARA located a bald eagle nest next to the river. We’ve seen all sorts of wildlife come back to the river and just really has brought a whole new sense of pride to the Southside of San Antonio. And we’re beginning to see people move this way.”
At least three mayor housing projects are popping up along the Mission and Museum Reaches of the San Antonio River in the next year or so, Wolff said.
Parking will be available at Espada and Acequia parks, but SARA is encouraging folks to take advantage of the Mission Reach trail itself as a pedestrian and bicycle path to the event.
REI San Antonio, an event sponsor, will also be hosting outdoor recreation mini-clinics about cycling, climbing backpacking, kayaking, and general outdoor activities.
There doesn’t need to be an event on the Mission Reach to enjoy it via canoe, kayak, or paddle board. Paddling on the river is free and “open” as long as there’s enough water. A map of launch and recovery areas are available at SARA’s website here – the most popular of which is the spot in the King William Historic District, right next to SARA’s headquarters at 100 E. Guenther St.
*Featured/top image: Ruben Gonzales, owner of SUPSATX, a local paddle board guided tour company, shows off his float for the inaugural Mission Reach Float Fest scheduled for April 11, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.