Ridgway RiverFest Returns as Uncompaghre Flow Peaks

Photo courtesy of Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. The Junk of the Unc is one of the entertaining river races at the Ridgway RiverFest.

Photo courtesy of Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. The Junk of the Unc is one of the entertaining river races at the Ridgway RiverFest.

Locals Love Hitting the River 'Like One Big Family'

By Steve Graham

The 12th annual Ridgway RiverFest is coming to the small southwestern Colorado town outside Ouray on Saturday, June 29. The event is a celebration of the Uncompahgre River, and includes river races, live music and educational programs about the watershed.

The event is perhaps best known for the infamous “Junk of the Unc” race, a half-race contest among homemade crafts made of scrap material not intended for river travel. 

“Those wacky, original works of art and science being maneuvered with such heart and soul is quite a sight to see,” said RiverFest coordinator Tanya Ishikawa.

The race and the other waterborne events will be especially exciting this year. Like most Colorado rivers, a very wet and snowy spring has fed a lot of water into the river. 

“The Uncompahgre River is running very high this year, and it may even peak around festival weekend,” Ishikawa said. “It makes the races more interesting and challenging.”

She said life vest requirements will be strictly enforced this year, and inner tubes are banned from the races. Festival organizers are also discouraging small children from even wading in the water.

“The water is just too cold and it gets really choppy downstream of the park,” she said.

Still, she expects a strong turnout for the event, a major outreach and fundraising opportunity for her organization, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. 

She hopes to raise a record amount of revenue this year. 

“Wouldn't it be great to get $12,000 for our 12th annual event?,” Ishikawa said. 

She said the money is used for public outreach about watershed issues, and for planning projects.

Ishikawa said the event has typically attracted mostly Ouray and Ridgway residents, lending it a laidback and small-town atmosphere.

“Compared to other river festivals in Colorado, we probably have a low number of tourists at the festival, but that just makes it less crowded and more relaxed,” she said. “Everyone has a good time together like one big family.”

She said the highlights of the festival will include Arizona bluegrass band Sugar & the Mint and a Ute cultural presentation, including stories and Native American flute music from Regina Lopez-White Skunk and her family.