A history runs through it

In Salida there is an annual event that brings more anticipation and excitement than Christmas – FIBArk! It’s less than a week away people!

Stay tuned to the Citizen for all things FIBArk. This year we will be posting event results throughout the week, so you poor souls that have to work and can’t spend the all four days moving between the river, food vendors and the beer tent can at least stay abreast of who won what.

To kick things off the FIBArk Board is sharing the following look at the history of FIBArk.  Have fun, play safe and enjoy what our community has to offer. -ss

FIBArk’s 62nd year continues the rich and fascinating history of the whitewater festival.  Whether the idea started as a result of idle talk over coffee by a group of Salida businessmen, or as a dare for bragging rights by boaters over beer, word of the Arkansas River Race challenge went mouth to mouth and people became interested.  The first FIBArk, First in Boating on the Arkansas, boat races started June 19th, 1949 when six boats entered the Arkansas River in Salida, CO for their treacherous 57 mile run to Canon City through the vertical cliffs of the Royal Gorge Canyon.  Three years later, portages and single-boat teams were eliminated and the race was set at its present length of 25.7 miles from Salida to Cotopaxi.  Coined by some as “Whitewater hell”, “The meanest stretch of whitewater in the world”, or “The longest, oldest, most prestigious and perhaps the toughest race in North America,” this Classic Downriver Race is still the longest whitewater race in the United States.

The original boat races were organized by the Salida Chamber of Commerce to attract people to the area and to promote relations with foreign countries.  World-class athletes were invited to Salida and over the years, boatmen from France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Scotland, Israel, Italy, England, Switzerland, Austria, Mexico, Canada, and the USA pitted their skills against the roaring, boulder-strewn river.  Although whitewater competition was well developed in Europe, Salida became the birthplace of whitewater sports in the United States. The City of Salida embraced the event and a four day festival and elaborate parade were soon organized. The boat races were advertised around the State and dignitaries were invited for the festivities. A Boat Race Queen, her attendants, and Hostesses represented the Annual Salida-Arkansas Races and in 1951 and 1953 movie stars reigned over the boating weekend.  A special train was arranged by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad  to carry hundreds of people as it followed the race down the river from Salida and 10,000 people or more lined the banks of the Arkansas to watch the boaters battle for survival.

Through the 62 years of the festival, whitewater paddling has evolved and additional river events such as slalom, wildwater, raft races, and freestyle competitions have been added to the festival. Undoubtedly the most popular spectator event is the costumed, dangerous, and chaotic Hooligan Race, where entrants navigate the downtown play park in anything that floats that’s not a boat.

The focus of FIBArk continues to be the mighty Arkansas River and the world-class boating events on local stretches.  Riverside Park is the center of festival activity and entertainment.  Food, arts and crafts, and industry vendors fill the park and visitors enjoy the beer tent, the carnival, and a river-side amphitheater for fun entertainment and outdoor music.  For those visitors interested in branching out from the river events, FIBArk also offers the challenging Tenderfoot Hill Climb, the local 5K, 10K, and trail runs, mountain bike races behind “S” Mountain, and the elaborate Parade down F Street!

FIBArk is organized, promoted, and presented each year by a group of dedicated volunteers.  The event would not be possible without the support of scores of people in the community who help as event sponsors and volunteers.  The 2010 New Belgium FIBArk Board of Directors thanks everyone for their contributions and pledges to continually honor the FIBArk history while looking forward to the future of boating on the Arkansas.

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