At KC RiverFest on Saturday, some people sidled up to the Missouri River as close as possible. That described the Dooley family of Mission, who set up their lawn chairs right atop the riverbank.
While spectacular fireworks were the main event for the Fourth of July festival and food trucks and stages for live music filled Berkley Riverfront Park, somehow there was still a focus on the river.
“I’m sitting here watching the water go by, and it’s really calming,” said Emily Dooley, attending with husband Brian and their children, Owen, 11, and Nora, 15.
“It’s beautiful,” Brian Dooley said, “right in the heart of the city. And you get to see fireworks mirrored in the water.”
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Nearby but mostly behind them, some 40,000 festivalgoers gathered, maybe 50,000 this year when the count is final, organizers said. Temperatures in the low 80s could help attendance surpass 2014’s number.
Besides the entertainment — bands, colorful kites, jugglers — getting folks to see and appreciate the river is a chief goal of the festival, which was organized by Friends of the River-Kansas City.
Though Kansas City has been notorious for its lack of attention to the riverfront, many hope the momentum is shifting.
Besides the development of Berkley Park and a riverfront trail, residential areas are burgeoning in the River Market and most recently a mixed-use project is in the works that includes a 410-unit apartment building on the riverfront.
“RiverFest helps to remind people that the reason Kansas City is here is because of this incredible river,” said Stefan White, Friends of the River board member. “Plus this is an incredible green space and we need to celebrate it.”
The river can be a unifying force for the area, said White, who settled in the River Market area when he moved to Kansas City nine years ago.
“I made really good friends at the river, just walking the path right here,” White said. “People don’t always realize how much is going on down here.”
The festival’s river focus was why Vicki Richmond, executive director of Healthy Rivers Partnership, and other river advocates set up shop Saturday, offering information to those curious about the 2,300-mile-long waterway.
“I’ve heard everything from ‘I didn’t know the river was here’ to ‘Do you do this every weekend?’” Richmond said.
“We drive over the river without paying a lot of attention to it. We need to start paying attention.”
Exhibits at the festival included information about river cleanup efforts. One display showed items pulled from the river, including soda cans and plastic water bottles, a plastic Halloween pumpkin, a pair of sparkly red shoes and fuzzy dice.
Phil and Teresa Draper appreciated a demonstration about soil erosion and water runoff, including information about excess fertilizer that pollutes streams. They were visiting from Edwardsville, Ill., with their 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.
“We have a yard with a lot of runoff,” Phil Draper said. “We got brochures about planting a rain garden, using plants that can take up a lot of water.”
Ron and Angela Reed of Warrensburg and their three children listened as Bill Brant of Heart of America Flyfishers explained the connection between animal life and the health of the river.
“I think this is good for all of us to learn about, including the children,” Angela said.