News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Riverfest: Feast, friends and fun
BY ADELE UPHAUS–CONNER
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Even native Virginians might be surprised to learn that we have a state shell: the oyster. It’s a nod to the many native varieties of oyster, one of which comes from our own Rappahannock River.
This is one of the many facts Betty Ellett learned while researching her book “ABC’s from the Rappahannock River, With Love.”
Ellett will be signing copies of her book at the 22nd annual Riverfest, a fundraiser for the river sponsored by the Friends of the Rappahannock, this Saturday at Farley Vale Farm in King George.
“It’s been around for a very long time; it’s a Fredericksburg tradition,” said Rebecca Kurylo, development director for FOR. “It’s traditionally been a crab feast celebrating the health of the river, because if it’s healthy, there are crabs!”
The all-you-can-eat crab feast and open bar will be held on a bluff overlooking the river, on a historic family farm. There will be silent and live auctions, and live music will provide entertainment for the evening.
For the first time this year, Riverfest has been officially certified as a Virginia Green event by the Department of Environmental Quality. In order to be certified, the event had to meet certain criteria, such as minimizing the amount of printed material, minimizing the use of disposable food products, and reducing overall waste. The invitations and publicity flyers were printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink, and everything will be recycled—even the crab shells, which will be made into fertilizer on a local farm.
“We were already doing a lot of these things, but just hadn’t been documenting it,” Kurylo said. “We’re hoping to inspire other events in the area to do this, as well. If other events looked at the criteria, they’d be surprised at how much they’re already doing and how just doing that little bit more could make their event more environmentally friendly.”
Crab-picking, beer-drinking and river-gazing sounds like an idle good time, but Riverfest is an important fundraiser for FOR. In the past, Kurylo said, the event has grossed about $150,000—a large part of the group’s budget, which it spends in the three main areas of restoration, education and advocacy.
Recently, most of FOR’s projects have involved polluted runoff.
“The big problem with the Rappahannock is not chemicals being dumped into it, as you might think,” Kurylo explained. “It’s that there are too many nutrients in it—nitrogen and phosphorus which comes from runoff from our houses, from the fertilizers we use in our yards.”
One small way that local homeowners can prevent this kind of runoff, Kurylo said, is to install a rain garden in their yards.
“It’s a living natural filter,” Kurylo explained.
The rain garden is a low-lying area of a yard, filled with gravel and covered with soil and plantings, where water can collect and percolate. By keeping rainwater on your property, you prevent it from running into the river.
“It captures those nutrients that are great in our yards but not in the river,” said Kurylo.
Those interested in finding out more about installing a rain garden can visit FOR’s website, riverfriends.org.
A large part of solving this problem involves educating people about it. Each year, FOR brings 7,000 schoolchildren to its property on the Rappahannock to teach them what they can do to improve the river’s health. Each classroom that visits FOR gets a copy of “ABC’s from the Rappahannock River,” which introduces children to the wildlife, landscape and life of the river through the alphabet, illustrated with photographs by the author and her son.
Ellett was a literacy specialist for Head Start for 30 years, and her passion is getting books into the homes of children who live in poverty. Two trips to Ghana with a Presbyterian mission group inspired her to write her first book, “ABC’s from Ghana, With Love,” and while promoting that book at a Head Start conference, she was asked if she would do something local.
“I grew up with grandparents having homes on the river, and I’ve lived on Riverside Drive overlooking the river for 16 years,” Ellett said. “I have always loved the river, and I was delighted to do this book.”
Each day, Ellett said, she would sit on her front porch, look at the river and go through three letters of the alphabet. In such a creative setting, even the tricky letter “X” only gave her a little difficulty.
Perhaps at Riverfest this year, the sight of the Rappahannock will spark your creativity.
What: 22nd annual Riverfest
When:Saturday, Sept. 15, 4–8 p.m.
Where: Farley Vale Farm, Route 3, King George
Tickets: $85, sold in advance only. Purchase by calling Friends of the Rappahannock at 540/373-3448 or visit the office at 3219 Fall Hill Ave., Fredericksburg
Adele Uphaus–Conner is a Fredericksburg-area writer.