By Hyacinth Fiorenzo
More than 500 participants took advantage of the warm weather Saturday to gather with family and friends the Bassett Family Fun Float to float, paddle and relish in the steady cool waters of the Smith River.
The annual event, spearheaded by the Greater Basset Area Community in partnership with Smith River Outfitters, Dan River Basin Association, Riverwalk, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Bassett Furniture, amongst others, organized and presented the family fun community outing.
The event, which was held despite drizzle from skirting thunderstorms, was situated at the Riverwalk in Bassett.
River-goers were shuttled every 30 minutes to the base of the Philpott Dam, to traverse the winding river in an outing that takes about 2.5 hours roundtrip to return to the Riverwalk area. Folks were permitted to use their own floats, boats, kayaks and canoes to traverse the waters, with around 200 participants on the water at any given time.
In addition to river sports, eventgoers were treated to a variety of things to do and see on land.
The banks of the Smith at Riverwalk were lined with tents, tables, food vendors and live music. Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to run a water booth, where they educated onlookers about water safety as well as the health, vitality, and power of the Smith River.
“We have about 250 cubic feet per second coming out as of yesterday,” said Dillon Brown, Interpretive Ranger at Philpott Lake. “We got about 330 coming out this morning, so the flow rate is really good for kayaking, canoeing, etc.”
The event originated four years ago but took a hiatus last year due to COVID. This years’ participation numbers were the biggest yet, which sparked renewed hope for events to come.
Brian Williams, Program Manager for the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), said the event and others like it are vital in introducing and familiarizing people with the waters in their backyard.
“We create these events to make sure that people are able to realize what a treasure they have right here,” said Williams. “We’ve found that if people get out and enjoy the waters for themselves, it’s easier for them to appreciate and protect the river. We want to encourage people to get out, become healthy, connect with nature and be good stewards and ambassadors for their river.”
DRBA has established 13 river access points just in the last 15-years. Before that, there were no public access points along the Smith. . Three takeout access points were added near the RiverWalk Mini Mall, on private property, just for the event.
Sharon Wright, site director for the Henry County Food Pantry, is affiliated with mall and helped to promote the Family Fun Float.
According to Wright, the event served a dual purpose — in providing information about area opportunities as well as allowing locals to connect, relax and have fun.
She worked closely with vendors to make sure everyone was well represented.
Bassett Furniture used the time as an opportunity to host a hiring event and a dining room furniture giveaway.
The Turkey Federation held an indoor BB gun shoot for children.
DRBA provided life jacket fittings and other vital river safety information.
“The entire community came together to make this happen,” said Wright. “This is just the beginning of things to come. We want to encourage the people of Henry County to get out and have fun.”
“We want people to realize that tourism is not just going to the beach,” he said. “We have 45 miles of tourism here on the Smith, right in our backyard.”