1 of 5
AJ Altenbernd, 4, catches a fish with the help of an Army Corps of Engineers volunteer.
2 of 5
Photo by Dani Wilson
Festival attendees enjoyed freshly squeezed lemonade from the inside of a giant lemon.
3 of 5
Photo by Dani Wilson
Mason Fries, 6, gets assistance building his birdhouse.
4 of 5
St. Louis vendor Michele Mohr stands with her assortment of handmade jewelry.
5 of 5
A sample of the trash and debris collected over the past month by Living Lands and Waters.
ALTON — Last Saturday, attendees of the Great Rivers Festival at the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton enjoyed a variety of experiences.
Children and adults got to explore the many ways to celebrate the meeting of the Great Rivers and all they bring to local life.
“Great Rivers Festival is a celebration of the confluence of the region,” said Angie Smith, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She said the festival showcases the different aspects of the rivers.
Local art vendors and musicians showed the river serves as a muse, with Mississippi Mud pottery and river rock jewelry among the many crafts and creations for sale and live music throughout the day. There were also nature demonstrations and displays from conservation-based groups including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Center for American Archaeology, the Endangered Wolf Center and more.
Children had a ton of fun — between getting their faces painted or doing some painting themselves for the Jacoby Arts Center’s Community Mural Project, they got to catch real fish from a pool (or colorful toy fish from a tarp nearby), see real animals in the conservation displays, build their own birdhouses, and enjoy the games, coloring books and other goodies from the different booths and vendors. Across the river, guests of all ages participated in PaddleFest, where they explored the waters themselves.
Local vendors also shared their talents and passions at the festival — some independent craft vendors showed their merchandise, including handmade jewelry and pottery as well as hand-stitched potholders and fabric works, while other booths held local businesses, such as the Olive Oil Marketplace in Edwardsville or Plowsharing Crafts in St. Louis.
Food was enjoyed by all ages — attendees got to eat local barbecue, kettle corn and pastries, among other treats. Adults enjoyed locally brewed beer from the GlobalBrew van, and everybody enjoyed fresh lemonade from inside a giant lemon.
A shining point of the conservation displays were the barge tours conducted by Living Lands and Waters, an East Moline-based nonprofit organization. Living Lands and Waters’ employees spend half their year on a sustainably built, largely recycled barge, cleaning trash and debris from the river’s edge and putting on education programs for local groups and classes along the way. The tour included a view of three barges full of their collections from the past month as well as a look around their living quarters.
Local mom and son DeeDee and AJ Altenbernd were among those enjoying the festival’s adventures. AJ, 4, enjoyed looking at everything and getting a wooden airplane to take home, as well as the conservation displays.
“I held a worm!” he said.
“It’s been fabulous,” his mother said. “I’m so excited for Alton!”
And the Great Rivers Festival was exciting — for Alton and the whole Great Rivers area. The festival was a way for the entire community to celebrate the waterways that bring culture, nature and inspiration to the surrounding areas.