Organizers Would Like to See More Turnout at Batteau Festival

Reporter: Dhomonique Ricks l Videographer: Jemon Haskins

Lynchburg, VA - The 26th Annual James River Batteau Festival is just days away and organizers hope to get more people to attend.

In recent years, crowd participation has dropped dramatically. Batteau participation is strong, but not as many people are coming out to celebrate.

Chairman of the Batteau Festival, Ralph Smith, says last year turnout for the eight day, 120 mile event was strong - 24 batteaux went down the river.

"After 26 years, that's a good strong fleet," Smith said.

This year they are not expecting as many - 18 to 20 boats. But they say they are still pleased. What they are not as pleased with is the turnout from the public.

"It's also the fact that Lynchburg is not putting on a festival. We would encourage them and hope that Lynchburg would do that," Smith said. "Five or six years ago it was a very large event. They had 20,000 people down. It was Friday night - there was a concert and then it was Saturday and I think it even spilled over into Sunday. But for the last couple of years there's really been nothing other than the public viewing."

"To see the crowd diminish in Lynchburg is disappointing. Because we feel like this is our home. This is where the festival began," Mason Basten, Owner James River Float Co. said.

Basten feels the same way. He has been going to the festival for 23 years and started floating on batteaux nearly 10 years ago.

"We're the only people in the country that do this. A real living history eight-day long festival," Basten said.

He says this is a missed opportunity for Lynchburg saying it would bring more people downtown.

"To have a Saturday with 15,000 people down there, I don't think you'd hear any complaining," Basten said.

Organizers are encouraging people to come out to Percival's Island on Saturday to enjoy the river and celebrate a period of history.

The goal is to make people aware the James River is an important natural resource and to bring awareness to small communities down the river.

The event ends in Richmond.