River Days Festival returns with free family fun

The long-running River Days festival returns to Midland, inviting families for free fun, axe throwing, live music, hot air balloons, food trucks, a beer and wine tent, art and makers fair, fireworks and more August 5-7. 

The event, put on by the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF), has become a local tradition for over three decades, bringing in 50,000-60,000 people every year, says Sara JacobsCarter, MACF youth impact coordinator and Midland Area River Days festival organizer. 

The event’s main goal is to bring family fun and resources to the local community.“It’s probably one of our longest-term initiatives,” JacobsCarter says. “It’s been going on for over 30 years. Even with COVID last year, we did River Days at home. We had some goodies in bags so people could pick them up and had some online join-in video activities. We tried really hard to keep it going despite the restrictions.”

Over the years, River Days, which began as a more informational, history-centered event, has transformed, says JacobsCarter. “It really evolved into a big party that the Midland Area Community Foundation throws for the Midland area.”

Hot air balloons lift off on Friday.The event’s main goal is to bring family fun and resources to the local community. JacobsCarter says the annual event is one of the most inclusive events of its kind. 

“It’s basically just to celebrate the amazing things that Midland has to offer, and the great people who live here. We make lots of effort to ensure that all of our friends and neighbors can participate, regardless of families’ financial needs. We try really hard to keep everything free or really low-cost.”

A craft beer and wine tent, ziplining, rock climbing wall, live music, and more can be enjoyed on Friday.Local nonprofits and organizations host tables within the kids zone in Chippewassee Park, showcasing their services and offering games and activities. The area is designed for families with elementary school-aged children to get residents familiar with places like Chippewa Nature Center, Midland Recyclers, and Family & Children Services.

“It is a cleverly designed way to connect families with local area resources,” JacobsCarter says. “They’re there to make sure that families who might need their services know that they’re there. While kids are doing the fun activity, parents will be able to determine whether that organization has something that they’ve been looking for.”

River Days kicks off Thursday, Aug. 5 with the Downtown Main Street Glow, and a silent dance party for teenagers/young adults. 

Friday, Aug. 6 follows with wood-branding demos, axe throwing, hot air balloon launches, free vaccination clinics, ziplining, rock climbing wall, bungee jumping, the Creative 360 art fair & makers market, 5K run and walk, a craft beer and wine tent, live music and more. 

Saturday ends with the Esther Gerstacker fireworks show.Saturday, Aug. 7’s lineup includes cornhole and washers, Midland County Historical Society tours of Main Street, Zumba with Greater Midland Community Center, pro skating exhibition, and more, ending with the Esther Gerstacker fireworks show. The entire schedule of events can be found here.

The event is free and no tickets are required for entry. “Just show up and have fun,” says JacobsCarter. “Bring a picnic basket of food, come on down, and enjoy yourselves.”

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at spohn9@gmail.com.
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