SKOWHEGAN — The six-day River Fest, which begins Tuesday, marks the return of something old and the continuation of something new for the town of Skowhegan.

Something old means the revival of Moonlight Madness, a night of food, bed races and live music. It means fireworks that were stopped for a few years as organizers of the downtown events changed and new faces — including Main Street Skowhegan — became more involved. Those events, including a Rotary lobster feed and canoe races, all were part of Skowhegan Log Days — logging and chain saw competitions that started in 1977, then faded away in 2002 after 27 years, taking Moonlight Madness with it.

Then, seven years ago, Moxie Outdoor Adventures approached the town with an offer of free raft rides down the Kennebec River Gorge through downtown as a way to promote the proposed $4.5 million Run of River white-water park in the gorge. Gradually all the old events — except for the logging competitions — have returned, said Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore, who also is chairman of the Run of River Committee.

“We started River Fest to promote the Run of River project,” Dore said. “We used to do it in June, then we decided to tie it in with Log Days because Log Days was taken away.”

The Run of River project was launched 10 years ago as a means to draw kayak and canoe enthusiasts to downtown Skowhegan, while creating a fun day on white-water rapids, Dore said. Right now the project is in the process of getting estimates on the cost of permitting for the construction of three sets of man-made rapids on the river.

Rapids are to be built with large boulders and concrete blocks in the river near the walking bridge, behind the Roman Catholic church and at a point in the lower river where it meets The Eddy, Dore said. The level of white-water rapids will be determined by the flow of the river, starting with 4,000 cubic feet per second — the higher the water level, the different the rapid, making for different challenges all the time, he said.

“Each set will produce a different type of wave — that’s the idea,” Dore said. “Exactly what type of waves there will be hasn’t been determined yet because that will be determined by the final design.”

The average daily flow in the summer is about 5,500 CFS. At 10,000 CFS, the flow would be too heavy to support safe, enjoyable rafting or kayaking and the boulders and concrete would be submerged, Dore said.

The final design for the project is expected to be done this winter, with construction bids going out in 2015, meaning work on the project would begin during the late August or September of 2016.

Dore said Skowhegan Log Days was popular in the late 1970s, when competitions were held at the Kennebec Shores rest area, next to the The Eddy. The events were sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, with Tom McCarthy in charge of all the events. Henry and Shirley would provide their special recipe of bean hole beans for the day.

McCarthy said he ran the show, built the needed equipment and supplied the logs for the events, which included log rolling on the Kennebec.

“I did everything from A to Z,” McCarthy said. “It went away because it was a lot of work — a lot of work and too few volunteers. I quit doing it because some of the other directors thought it had gotten too big for the town of Skowhegan and there was too much money going out of town in competition prizes.”

In a letter in 2002 to Chamber members, then-director Holly Taylor wrote that Log Days conflicted with the Chamber’s mission statement to promote member businesses. “Anyone can watch ‘local’ money going down I-95 that night,” she wrote.

McCarthy said fewer and fewer local loggers competed in the events as the river drives stopped on the Kennebec and the old ways of working in the woods changed as the industry became more mechanized.

These days Skowhegan River Fest kicks off Tuesday with a Lions Club chicken barbecue from noon to 2 p.m. and again from 5 to 7 p.m. Classic, restored and modified cars will be on display from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and a concert by the Skowhegan Community Band is set for 5:30 p.m. — all events in the Big Top in the municipal parking lot.

On Wednesday there will be an antique appraisal show, a jazz concert and the annual pub crawl from 5 to 10 p.m.

Thursday is Moonlight Madness from 6 to 10 p.m. — Water Street and Commercial Street will close at 5 p.m. Bed races are at 7 p.m.

The Main Street Skowhegan dunk tank starts at 6 p.m., offering a chance to dunk Rev. Rick Dorian, Rev. Mark Tanner, Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand, Main Street Director Dugan Murphy, Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce Director Cory King, Selectman Don Skillings and Deputy Police Chief Don Bolduc.

Proceeds will benefit Main Street Skowhegan.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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