The Slave River Paddlefest is creating a new event for this year’s festival in memory of environmentalist and Fort Smith resident Jacques van Pelt.
The River Night, on Friday, August 2, will be held in tribute to Van Pelt, who passed away at the age of 85 in November 2018.
“Jacques is pretty special for me and special for a lot of people. He was such an amazing person, a very unique, positive, caring individual,” remembers Paddlefest organizer Natalie Anderson.
Anderson describes River Night as an opportunity for locals to talk about the Slave River, its history, and environmental issues regarding the river – while educating visitors coming up to Paddlefest.
“It’s a chance for us to discuss threats to the river and be able to share knowledge and stories about how we have used the river in the past,” she told Cabin Radio.
“But also, a lot of the visitors that come up don’t know about all of the issues that a lot of locals are grappling with in regard to the river.”
This year, River Night will host a tribute to Van Pelt, presentations on the river’s pelicans and hydro development, the movie Three Feathers, and a free community feast.
The event is held at the Roaring Rapids Hall in Fort Smith. Doors open at 6:30pm and the night begins with remarks from the Smith’s Landing First Nation’s elders and chief.
Other events at the festival, which takes place from August 2 to 5 at Mountain Portage Rapids, include “jousting” between brave paddleboarders on the water.
However, Anderson says just because “paddle” is in the name, you don’t need to know how to paddle to attend.
“There are lots of activities accessible to people who have never been in the water before. A lot of it is designed to be more family-friendly, introducing people to being safe and having fun on the river,” she said.
A beach party takes place on Saturday with a paddler appreciation banquet on Sunday and pancake breakfast on Monday.
“Some of the best ways to conserve rivers are to get people to use them, and to enjoy them, and to get everyone out there and care for a place,” said Anderson.