BEACON FALLS — When the decision was made to combine the town’s two largest events, it was done so with an eye on attracting a larger crowd to enjoy a festive day on the Naugatuck River in Beacon Falls.
The combination of yaks and quacks didn’t disappoint.
“There’s at least five times as many people as I’m used to seeing here,” said Bob Bradley, president of the Beacon Falls Merchant Association, Saturday as he mingled amongst the large crowd gathered at Beacon Falls’ Volunteer Park.
The festival brought together the annual Naugatuck Valley Canoe and Kayak Race and the annual Beacon Falls Duck Race for the first time on the same day.
Bradley said it was the best turnout by far as far as the canoe and kayak race was concerned. He attributed the larger crowd to combining the two events.
“It just built on itself,” Bradley said.
The merchant association co-sponsored the festival along with the Beacon Falls Lions and Lioness clubs, which host the duck race every year. The duck race is a fundraiser for the clubs and 90 percent of all the money the clubs raise stays in town, Lion Bill Mis said.
When asked what he thought about combing the events, Mis looked around Volunteer Park and said it was the best idea ever.
“Awesome, it couldn’t be better,” Mis said. “It’s actually fantastic.”
By noon, parking was scarce downtown as revelers began to fill up Volunteer Park. About a half hour later, they got their first glimpse of canoers and kayakers paddling their way to the finish line at the Depot Street Bridge.
Victor Darr, a 22-year-old kayaker from Clinton, was the first racer to cross the finish line.
“It was a little dry,” Darr said about the river, “but I was stoked.”
For Darr, Saturday marked the fourth time he participated in the race. Darr said he keeps coming back because of what the entire event has to offer.
“The whole event, and not just the river race, the great festival, the great people and the great cause — the river,” Darr said.
About 115 racers in all took part in the race, which is run by Dave Faber of Connecticut Outdoors Canoes and Kayaks in Oakville. The race was founded as a way to draw attention to and promote the Naugatuck River. All proceeds from the race will go to benefit local organizations, including the Naugatuck River Watershed Association, Beacon Falls Hose Company, and the Naugatuck Fire Department.
“This was what our vision was the whole time; get money, enough to give back. This is the first year we were able to do that. Our hope is to continue that,” Faber said in an interview weeks before the race.
One of the state’s biggest advocates of the Naugatuck River and the environment was on hand for the race.
Daniel Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, stopped by Beacon Falls to check out the race for himself.
“Having grown up along the Naugatuck River remembering when it used to flow orange, red and green, whatever color sneaker the Uniroyal factor was making, I wanted to celebrate along with everyone on the water today the huge progress the river has made,” Esty said.
For Esty, the race is a reminder that the state’s investment in environmental protection is paying big dividends and everyone needs to do their part to be good stewards of the environment.
“It’s a thrill for me to see how far (the Naugatuck River’s) come in 40 years,” Esty said.
After the last canoe and kayak was pulled from the river, there were plenty of activities to keep festival goers entertained until the rubber ducks were released for their race.
About 50 vendors, double the number that has turned out in past years according to Bradley, set up shop in Volunteer Park. Among the vendors were several local restaurants, which made up the first Taste of Beacon Falls.
Andrea Scalese, owner of Full Harvest Bar & Grill in Beacon Falls, was hopeful that the Taste of Beacon Falls would raise more awareness about what the town has to offer, especially for those who do not live in town.
“Hopefully, they come here, try it out, and come back,” Scalese said.
Looking ahead, the combination of yaks and quacks is one the town can look forward to for years to come.
“When we made the decision to combine the event, we made a commitment to do this for multiple years,” Bradley said.