As summer heat kicks in and daylight begins to linger, many search for ways to savor the sunny weather.

The Riverfront Parks Committee is celebrating Wilkes-Barre’s 250th anniversary with an event that supplies plenty of waterway fun. Wyoming Valley Riverfest appropriately begins on the first day of summer, Friday, June 21, and concludes on Sunday, June 23.

The jam-packed weekend will commemorate the anthracite-based history and environmental beauty of Luzerne County. John Maday, executive director of the Riverfront Parks Committee, explained that the group advocates for environmental education, awareness, stewardship, advocacy and recreation.

“In other words, we teach about the environment,” Maday said.

Maday has been with the organization for 30 years, initially working to preserve the land through simple tasks, like clearing walking trails and promoting conversations about the community’s natural resources.

“We started in Nesbitt Park with a couple of folding tables and displays of information about the environment,” Maday noted. “I remember walking around the park on a Saturday with posters, trying to encourage people to come to Riverfest.”

Now, thanks to a combination of perseverance, sponsorship and volunteerism, the organization has been able to make the annual event popular and highlight environmental awareness and protection of the land through recreational activities.

A kayaker makes his way down the Susquehanna River towards Nesbitt Park during last year’s RiverFest.

Susquehanna Kayak & Canoe Rental and Endless Mountain Outfitters assist in one of Wyoming Valley Riverfest’s major attractions: the river tours. Throughout the course of the weekend, the companies will guide four trips down the Susquehanna River, giving the public a chance to experience a notable natural resource of the community in a unique and memorable fashion.

The tours commence on Friday morning with a seven-mile trip from Harding to West Pittston, followed by a seven-mile paddle from West Pittston to Nesbitt Park at sunset. Art Coolbaugh, a river tour guide from the Susquehanna Kayak & Canoe Rental, called the trips “historically significant,” as participants learn about prior affects of mining on the river, and about the Wyoming Valley as a whole, during the trek.

The next two trips kick it up a notch, with 14 miles of paddling from Harding to Nesbitt Park on Saturday and a 14-mile kayaking trip through the Nanticoke rapids on Sunday. Coolbaugh promised Saturday’s trip would be a “great time for beginners because there’s a lot of help on the water.”

It should be an easy and relaxing paddle compared to the journey through the rapid waters on Sunday, which requires more expertise and concentration. Therefore, tandem kayak or canoe rentals and children under 12 are not permitted for that trip.

Participation in the outdoor excursions costs $45 per kayak, $60 per tandem kayak or canoe or $25 if you supply your own boat, which includes buses, guides, insurance, water, bathroom usage and T-shirts. Reservations can be made by calling 570-388-6107 or 570-746-9140.

Those with a more competitive edge have the chance to compete in the Dragon Boat Races on Sunday. The 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition incorporates teamwork, creativity and a significant amount of arm strength to paddle upstream against the current. Awards will be presented to first-, second- and third-place teams as well as to the best dressed drummer (the person seated at the front of each boat who continuously strikes a drum to keep their team paddling in unison).

Maday expects Riverfest to attract nearly 2,000 people, weather permitting. The event is a chance for the public to interact with the environment in a positive way, and organizers hope it encourages attendees to continue with environmental education and awareness.

“The goal is to get someone to enter your classroom,” Maday said. “Our classrooms are the city parks along the river.”

Contact the writer:; 570-348-9127

If you go

  • What: Wyoming Valley Riverfest
  • When: Friday, June 21, through Sunday, June 23
  • Where: All events and activities are free and take place at Nesbitt Park, located between the Market Street and North Street bridges, Wilkes Barre, unless otherwise noted.
  • Details: Call 570-825-1701 or 570-602-0600 or visit



Friday, June 21

  • 8 a.m. to noon: River trip from Harding to West Pittston
  • 4 to 7 p.m.: River trip from West Pittston to Nesbitt Park
  • 5 to 9 p.m.: Activities, food and live music by the Tom Petty Appreciation Band
  • 5 to 7 p.m.: Suskie Bassmaster’s Free Family Fishing Derby

Saturday, June 22

  • 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: River trip from Harding to Nesbitt Park
  • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Dragon Boat team training
  • Noon to 5 p.m.: Activities, food and live music by Three Imaginary Boys and Don Shappelle and the Pickups
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: “Get Your Tail on the Trail” Two-mile Fun Walk
  • 2:30 p.m.: Kids’ yoga hosted by Studio Be

Sunday, June 23

  • 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: River trip from Nesbitt Park to Hunlock Creek
  • 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Dragon Boat team races and live music by Don Shappelle and the Pickups