Riverblast gets underway

NEW ULM – A cannon shot marked the start of Riverblast, a free cultural event and festival on the Minnesota River Friday afternoon in Riverside Park.

“We love partying. We have festivals. You know what, let’s have a blast!,” New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman said before the Barefoot Winos began playing blues music on stage.

“It’s my favorite festival in New Ulm’s cycle of festivals,” said Terry Sveine of New Ulm.

Sponsored in part by the Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River (CCMR), Riverblast continues at 11 a.m. Saturday with information about the river, the Regional River History & Information Center (old schoolhouse) in Riverside Park plus music, food and drink until 1 a.m. The musical menu includes cajun, zydeco, rock, blues and country music by local and regional bands.

A free blues for kids workshop begins at 3 p.m. in the regional river history center. Free cajun/zydeco dance lessons will be given during Evrette Smithson’s 6 to 9 p.m. performance Saturday.

Scott Sparlin, CCMR Director, said the biggest river news is its nomination to the U.S. Department of Interior to become part of the National Blueway Program.

“We may know as soon as next month if the river becomes a National Blueway,” Sparlin said.

National Blueways are nationally and regionally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly-valued recreational, social, economic, cultural and ecological assets for communities that depend on them.

The goal of the National Blueway System (NBS) is to advance a whole river and watershed-wide approach to conservation, outdoor recreation, education, and sustainable economic opportunities in which we live, work, and play.

Blueway benefits lasting for five years, include federal agencies active in managing land and water resources coordinating activities with Memorandums of Understanding and Cooperative Agreements. Cabinet-level recognition increases public awareness, partner involvement, visitation, financial and technical assistance and access to expertise, increased grant competitiveness and other economic opportunities. State, local and tribal governments will determine their participation level.

“We want to make the Minnesota River a national destination point,” Sparlin said. “Last year’s river data show signs of recovery. There is less phosphorus and sediment now than there was. Nitrogen is our new challenge. There is more consciousness, a new influx of advocacy, including young people and agriculture, to make the river and watershed something very special.”

Sparlin said river and watershed partnerships are helping bridge communication gaps.

“We’re listening and talking to each other now,” he said.

So far, just one National Blueway is recognized – the Connecticut River and Watershed in New England, spanning the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Sparlin’s sister Gail, an upstate New York Capital District music educator and pop singer and her daughter Cecelia, of New York City, who writes a blog in 3ChicGeeks.com and MTV.com/GEEK, joined him at Riverblast this weekend.

The New Ulm Community Market and Cooperative is also new at Riverblast. The organization is selling member-owner shares.

For more information, visit www.riverblast.net

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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