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Most Chaffee County residents and visitors see FIBArk (which stands for First in Boating on the Arkansas) as the nation’s oldest river celebration, complete with fast water, kayaking stunts that defy gravity and one’s ability to hold one’s breath, and the craziness of the celebration’s beloved Hooligan Race. But few may realize that it is actually a fund-raiser that supports youth river sports programs.

In 2015, FIBArk was re-established as a charitable nonprofit 501(c)(3) with the mission to contribute a youth paddling programs in Salida. The name of the program is FIBArk Community Paddling Center.

Alli Gober, a member of the FIBArk board said, “Once we turned into a 501(c)(3) we were able to sustain some of our programs.” One such program is the Kids in Kayaks program that allows all fourth grade Longfellow Elementary students a chance to safely get out in the water at a young age. They offer free beginner lessons to the kids.

Gober said “We want to give every child in the community the ability to safely engage in the river. This river is such a resource to our community, and it just makes sense that our kids should be able to go have fun in the river and maybe if they want to go compete nationally or internationally, give them the opportunity to do that too – not based on their family resources but allowing anyone to do that. So that’s a big part of where all the FIBArk money is going.”

Arkansas River kayakers and stand up paddlers, near SteamPlant in Salida. Photo by Merrell Bergin

“We’re the only community in the country right now offering kayaking lessons in school settings. I’m so excited about the potential for FIBArk,” she added

Every year, the FIBArk commodores get together and contribute money to a scholarship. It is given to a child they select who has shown through the lessons that they are driven, engaged and who the Kayak teachers can see continuing in the sport.

“We just give a whole set up, everything, everything the child would need to go out kayaking — with the understanding that they will then sell it back to us and then hopefully we can give them the money and they can use it to go buy their next kayak, that’s a little bigger,” said Gober.

FIBArk also hosts high school kayak races throughout the year

Lucas Bare, a member of the FIBArk Board explained why the festival ultimately decided to charge for this year’s live music, for the first time.

“We’ve gradually been shifting a bit as an organization towards focusing more on funding those youth paddling programs and using proceeds from fundraisers, which our primary fundraiser is the FIBArk festival, to contribute to youth paddling. With some of the planning that went into last year’s festival that then didn’t happen, we took a financial hit there and then just looking ahead and instead of going from one festival to the next. To really have more of a sustainable presence and fund these programs year-round it just made sense for us to start charging for the music.”

The nonprofit is in the process of creating a website with all their programs and info which they hope to show to the public in the future.

See this recent AVV story for a full recap of the 2021 FIBArk events: