GARDINER — Umbrellas were required accessories Saturday afternoon at the Greater Gardiner River Festival, but visitors enjoyed a full day of activity in the city’s downtown.

Hundreds of people braved the weather to participate in the festival, Dozens of food and craft vendors and community groups set up booths at the city’s waterfront and on Water Street for the event. Other activities included boat rides with Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, live music and fireworks.

Matt Wing and Jennifer Doherty paddleboard Saturday on the Kennebec River just before weather turned to rain at the Greater Gardiner River Festival. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

The weather switched from rainy and windy to sunny and muggy regularly through the day, which caused problems for the Southern Kennebec SUP Rentals paddleboards booth. The group’s tent, which covered four representatives from the company, caught a gust of wind, overturned and blew away, leaving the group scrambling to pick up spilled lunches and errant paddleboards.

Rochelle Robert, of Damariscotta; her son, Josh Wolf; and two grandchildren, Adelena, 3, and Wesson, 1, enjoyed the sun on the waterfront’s boardwalk during a break in stormy weather around 2:30 p.m. Robert said it was the first time she and her family had attended the festival.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be rainy until we were on our way,” she said. “It’s been great.”

While activities held outdoors were stifled by the rain, shop owners saw a little bump in visitation from festivalgoers trying to get out of inclement conditions. Clare Marron, owner of Monkitree craft shop and Art Gallery on Water Street, said new customers came in and stayed longer during the periods of rain.

“The downpour helped me a lot,” she laughed, adding that festival day and holidays are usually her most successful business days.

The event was organized by Gardiner Main Street, a local group tasked with creating a vibrant downtown. Melissa Lindley, the group’s director, said the event was an economic boon for downtown businesses and a good way to familiarize people with the city and the Kennebec River.

“It’s a fun way to get people out on the river,” Lindley said. “It’s a surge of people and it’s a big business day for downtown businesses.”

Marron, a member of the Gardiner Main Street board of directors, said the group has been successful in making the city’s downtown area more accessible and eye-catching for visitors, which helps every business owner in the city.

“Everything looks good. That’s the indication that Gardiner Main Street is doing what they want to do,” she said. “It has a tremendous effect on how the town feels to people.”

The event began with the dedication of a statue titled “Dilly Dally” by Sasson Soffer, an Iraqi-American artist who died in 2009. Soffer spent time in Maine, eventually buying a house in Somerville, according to a description of the statue on Gardiner Main Street’s website. The property had a leaning chimney and Soffer went to Gardiner steel fabricator T.W. Dick seeking a metal brace. T.W. Dick owner Ralph Dick suggested the artist make the brace himself and introduced him to metal sculpting, a professional relationship that stood for 30 years.

The statue, which was donated to the city by the artist’s foundation in 2017, is toward the back of the city’s Waterfront.

The river festival is part of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual celebration of the Kennebec River, dubbed the Whatever Family Festival. The celebration has been held for 40 years and includes events throughout central Maine from June 12 to July 4.

Workers from Southern Kennebec SUP Rentals clean up Saturday after a gust of wind flung their tent and a paddleboard down the hill Saturday at the Greater Gardiner River Festival. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd


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