COLUMBIA, SC — Smith Harden remembers his first experiences on the water. They happened when he was about 6 years old at a summer camp in Aiken, where he learned to canoe and played “so many wacky games” on the water.
“I like the experience of the water. Not a lot of kids get to have a positive experience on the water outside of a pool,” he said. “As I got older, it was a cool way to hang out. You and a boat and the river is just the ultimate scene.”
Harden spent seven summers at that camp, and he thinks of it as “the most monumental experience of my life,” he said. It’s what pushed him toward becoming a park ranger at Saluda Shoals Park for the past five years, and it’s what gave him most of his ideas for putting on the Irmo-area park’s Rollin’ on the River festival.
The festival celebrated its third year Saturday, with games, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, live music and food for families of all ages and sizes, many of them sharing their first river-water adventures.
Seven-year-old Grace Murray was a little nervous to go tubing for the first time.
Her parents, Paul and Kim Murray, brought their four children to the festival, looking for “a good adventure being out on the water,” Kim Murray said.
As they stood in line with at least a dozen other people playing games such as ladder ball and giant checkers while waiting to tube, their oldest, 12-year-old Kendall, said she was looking forward to trying out the new experience.
“I like being out on the water. It’s fun,” she said.
More than 500 people from around the state came to the festival last year, Harden said, and he expected around 450 this year.
“Mr. Don” Sylvester said one of the reasons he enjoys Rollin’ on the River is because “it introduces people to this spot they never knew existed.” He grilled hotdogs for the crowd Saturday afternoon – “The best hotdogs in town,” he said.
“I enjoy doing it because it’s for the kids,” Sylvester said. “You see a smile on that face, and you know you’ve done something to put that smile there.”
There were lots of smiles all around the park as families enjoyed the opportunity to bond with one another.
Brian and June Seager brought their 2-year-old daughter, Addison, to the festival. The family lives in Fort Knox, Ky., but is staying in Columbia while Brian is here for his work in the Army.
They came to Saluda Shoals for the first time on Friday, and Saturday was going to be Addison’s first time on a river.
It was a day of firsts for the Hoover family, as well.
Scott and Christine Hoover and their 23-year-old daughter, Brittany, came to the festival to celebrate Father’s Day weekend, and they waited in line to canoe after having kayaked for the first time.
They enjoyed the experience so much that they had started talking about buying a kayak or canoe of their own.
“It’s nice being away from work and with family. It’s kind of peaceful,” Brittany Hoover said. “It’s a good bonding experience.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.