Riverfest changed the paradigm

I remember the first few years of Riverfest, back on the schedule for Saturday, which got its start in Downtown Waynesboro on the South River in the late 1990s as what came across to me as the biggest tree-hugger event of all time in this part of Virginia.

You had to know Suzanne Goldsmith, one of the driving forces in those early years, to appreciate my first impressions, which largely came from meeting with Suzanne, who had been assigned the task of dealing with the news media as a sort of liaison for the event’s first several years.

I don’t know Suzanne’s politics, but if they weren’t ’60s liberal, then I wouldn’t know what they were. She’s talking river spirits and totem poles and related stuff. I’m thinking, When she gets to Cum ba yah, I’m scatting.

I kid a bit there as a way to get to a bigger point about Riverfest, which is I think it was a forerunner of what is to come in Waynesboro as the River City – I helped popularize the term that some of you hate us in the local media using so much, borrowing it from a long-ago editor at the News Virginian that I didn’t have much use for, other than his repeated references to Waynesboro as “the River City.”

Regular readers know my preaching on the New Green Economy and its relation to Waynesboro, which is really twofold. Riverfest taps into track one, the tourism – the event includes educational shows by our local-based Wildlife Center of Virginia, the Road and River Relay, the Fish ‘N Fun Rodeo and more, attracting locals and tourists alike to our unique downtown river habitat. Track two is an effort that I can’t really call an effort with a straight face because the word effort implies that somebody or somebodies are doing something actively, and I don’t think that’s happening with what I’m getting at here yet, though it soon will be.

What I’m jabbering about – the development of a local college, public, private, perhaps elements of both, dedicated to green technology and research. There are efforts already ongoing to try to set up some kind of research educational facility here in Waynesboro that recognize what I’m trying to get at here a bit more broadly. I say I’m thinking more broadly because what I understand is being envisioned with the facility that is in the works is more a collaborative maybe with Virginia Tech or UVa. that would involve a few professors and some grad students using the South River that runs through us for some field research.

What I see, and others are starting to see, is the development of a full-blown science and technology school that includes programs for undergraduate and graduate students interested in careers in environmental science, green technology development, green tourism development and management and related fields.

There is no better backdrop for this kind of a venture than Waynesboro, with the South River running through a downtown district just three or four miles from the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, with the Wildlife Center of Virginia based here, with a vibrant agricultural industry all around us.

How this relates to Riverfest – Riverfest had to come along to shake the trees, to get us to see what else is out there, to clear the way for the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival and we can hope the new South River Greenway linking downtown to the Drive and the National Park and the Parkway, to get us thinking about preserving what we have, and thinking that there are ways to make a living doing that, too.

The early Riverfest pioneers like Suzanne Goldsmith and their ’60s vibe seemed so foreign 10 years ago. Now it’s clear the Riverfest people were just green before green was cool.





– Story by Chris Graham

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