FORT WAYNE — Magnum Bobay helped three other members of Concordia High School’s rowing crew team pull a 42-foot rowing shell out of the St. Marys River and carry it upside down over their heads to a shady spot on the river’s northern bank.
In his estimation, his time out on the water during Saturday’s inaugural Riverpalooza couldn’t have been better – except for one teeny, tiny little hitch.
“Sometimes it gets windy, and waves get moving and it gets bumpy,” the 17-year-old said. “Today, the river was calm – no waves. Beautiful.”
The hitch came when part of the mechanism holding the oars developed a crack, retiring the craft for the day. “It’s too wobbly,” he said.
But plenty of people still were able to spend time in, along and above the water as the event, organized around the historic Wells Street iron bridge, gained traction around noon.
That’s when around 700 purple-shirted bicyclists awaiting the start of this year’s Le Tour de Fort trek descended on the site.
They joined kayakers, canoeists and paddle boarders renting crafts from the nearby Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot, people listening to music under tents on the bridge and families spilling over from the carnival at Precious Blood Catholic Church a few blocks away for a little face-painting fun.
“We thought we’d hit both places,” said Kris Wall-Friesner of Fort Wayne, 56, who grew up in the neighborhood and attended with her sister, Kay Jones. Jones had brought along her daughter Andrea Ricker and Ricker’s husband, Josh, and their preschool daughter, Charli.
“I think it’s really nice. It’s nice they’re showing off the rivers. It’s small now, but maybe it’ll grow,” Wall-Friesner said.
Sarah Johnson, 17, vice president of the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council, the festival’s organizer, said she was pleased with the attendance. By noon, the event had attracted about 1,200 people, she estimated.
“There are a lot of people here – more than, personally, I expected,” said the soon-to-graduate Bishop Luers High School senior.
“We worked really hard to market this, and it shows, I think,” she said.
“People really are curious about the rivers.”
Johnson said the event came about when members of the mayor’s council, composed of students at area high schools interested in learning leadership skills, wanted to extend its Almost Famous talent show for high school students to more people.
“With all the focus on the rivers and improving the rivers, we wanted to include that and make it a place where families could come,” she said.
John Hoham, director of Concordia’s rowing crew team, said the event was a perfect place to heighten the profile of the sport.
The team brought several rowing machines and conducted a morning rowing clinic.
“One thing several people have said is we didn’t even know we had anything like this in Fort Wayne,” he said.
A long-range goal, he added, is building a boathouse “to expand the program out to more people.”
While the St. Marys was the featured attraction and the stage on the bridge showcased some potentially rising musical stars, Michael Rigdon was showing off the real star of the day.
The Science Central staff member had set up an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope fitted with a solar filter and trained it on the sun, almost directly overhead in a nearly cloudless blue sky.
Several festivalgoers commented that the weather couldn’t have been better, Rigdon said. He added that in his first hour of demonstrating the scope, about 30 people had already taken a look through the lens.
“It’s surprising. Most people don’t know much about our own star that’s 93 million miles away. It is a star,” he said.