If all you know about the Augusta Canal is what little you can see of it from Riverwatch Parkway or the I-20 overpass, then you really have no idea what you’re missing out on. Fix that at the annual CanalFEST, coming up from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, November 11.
From kayaking to running, to canoeing to biking, CanalFEST is all about letting you in on the secrets to enjoying this unique waterway and outdoor playground in the heart of the city. The free festival, to take place at Mill Village Trailhead at 109 Eve St., is a celebration of all the outdoor activities that can be enjoyed out at the Augusta Canal.
The tons of free classes are perfect for beginners. Among the classes will be guided bike rides by Wheel Movement, fly fishing by Project Healing Waters and Rivers and Glen Trading Co., kayak fly fishing by Heroes on the Water, archery (with a Nerf tip) by Cabela’s and more.
If you’re looking to learn how to use a kayak or canoe, you’ll want to be prepared to get in the water. (Don’t worry — odds are you’ll stay dry!) The learning experience won’t take you very far from the launch point as it is more about learning techniques.
CanalFEST has its roots in an event that took place last year, which was under the name Find Your Park Festival, which commemorated the National Park Service’s centennial and the Augusta Canal’s 20 years as a national heritage area.
“We hadn’t really had a festival, and we’ve been talking about it for years,” said Julianna Shurtleff, development and volunteer coordinator for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. “So we kind of got popularity with (the Find Your Park Festival). And it did really well, so from there we were like, we need to continue doing a festival. So this’ll now continue to be hopefully a festival every year to celebrate all things outdoors you can do on the canal.”
As part of the festival, the Augusta Striders also will be hosting a 5K/Fun Run in the morning. People can sign up by finding the link at augustacanal.com/festival. It’s one of only two activities at the festival that has a fee — $25 in advance, and $30 the day of. The fee includes a T-shirt and a beer after the race. Oh, and the proceeds go back into the heritage area, since the Striders group often uses the canal’s trails for their races.
The only other activity that day that will have a fee is the Petersburg Boat tours — normally, the tours cost $14, but during the festival they are $5.
“The tours will bring you down to the Augusta Canal Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill, and take you back to the festival,” Shurtleff said. “So you can tour the museum as well with your boat tour ticket — the captain will be dropping you off down here for a little while and then picking you back up, and he’ll be doing round trips throughout the day.”
Shurtleff couldn’t emphasize enough the canal’s value in the area.
“The canal just in general increases the city of Augusta’s quality of life, with all the trails, the water trails, the history and culture of the canal,” she said. “It’s the oldest continuously used hydropower canal in the United States. So we want to preserve that history and our environment that we have here at the canal. It spans over 2,000 acres of protected land, and offers kayaking, canoeing, fly fishing, bike riding, running, which we’re going teach all of those things out at CanalFEST.”
The festival will include live entertainment all day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Mill Village Pavilion, featuring locals such as Jerod Gay, Eryn Eubanks & the Family Fold, Bethany and the Southside Boys and Jonay Bailey.
And don’t bypass all the fun being set up for kids! The Kroc Center has the younger ones in your family covered, with inflatables, Zumba classes, face-painting and more — all free.
Dozens of vendors will be at the festival, including food trucks — Fat Man’s Cafe, Dutch Baker, Koana Ice, Campbell’s BBQ — as well as the Kroc Center’s Cafe on the Canal, which will be serving breakfast and lunch.
Fat Man’s Cafe will also be stocking up on beer for the day!
Though the festival is free, VIP tickets may be purchased for $45 and include reserved parking, free food and drinks in the tented seating area near the music pavilion and fees waived for any activities, including canal boat tours and the 5K. Proceeds support projects in the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. Visit augustacanal.com/festival for a link to buy your VIP tickets. The purchase of two VIP tickets comes with an automatic, annual national heritage area membership worth $150.