Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Three Rivers ready to lift our spirits this summer

Parade was canceled, but festival is a go

Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 30, 2021

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Three Rivers Festival is happening this summer as scheduled from July 9-17. In fact, it is positioned for one of its best years in recent history.

Historically the nine-day event draws in the neighborhood of 500,000 attendendees.

“I don’t know where that rumor started, or how it started,” said John Nichter, board president of 3RF. “We canceled 2020, but our committees have been meeting through the winter and the spring. We canceled the parade, but we never touched the events.”

He said canceling the parade came down to logistics. That translates to sponsorship money, police manpower, and simple things like barricades.

The parade also traditionally has been a marketing tool for businesses and organizations. Nichter didn’t like the idea of having to rush what sponsors were building.

“The reason we canceled so early — companies were creating floats,” Nichter said. “They had no time to prepare, and it’s a massive effort with our volunteers and staging. There were a lot of little moving parts.”

Ready or not, the festival will open on Friday, July 9, with midway, rides, and other events at Headwaters Park just north of downtown. It will conclude with fireworks above the central city.

Shake Loose from the Shutdown

Nichter supposes the Three Rivers Festival is just what the community needs to break free from 16 months of pandemic protocols.

“We are going to be the first really big festival back,” he said.

There have been a few shorter, focused events at Headwaters Park, but this will test Nichter’s theory.

“People have been bottled up and are ready to get out and enjoy the city,” he said. “We are really anticipating record numbers. It’s really positive.”

The pandemic created unprecedented concerns, from proper social distancing and effective sanitation to increased manpower.

Nichter and his staff were weighing the question: Could they do it?

“We were planning months in advance and we didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “A lot has changed since we had to make that decision.”

With COVID-19 held in check, other concerns remain, like construction around Headwaters Park and Promenade Park. Headwaters will remain largely unchanged, but it was getting close to crunch time.

“It’s been hectic and stressful,” Nichter said.

Seeking a New Director

The 3RF is operating without an executive director, but a new leader is expected to be named after the organization concludes a national search later this summer.

Nichter said he and the team were more than prepared.

“We have talented and experienced full-time staff members,” he said. “Volunteers picked up and board members stepped up. We took on extra roles to get the job done. That’s why we are here.”

Nichter himself is a 20-year volunteer. He’s in his fourth term on the board.

“It’s a passion for me,” he said. “It had to get done. We had to have a festival. There are so many people who love this festival. We’ve been creating memories since 1969.”

The new director will be tasked with renovating the festival to keep it fresh and relevant.

“There are things we want to keep doing, but also bring in new events that tie in with the tradition,” Nichter said.

A new director will give the organization the chance to revisit and reinvent the festival. Nichter compared it to a makeover or a fresh coat of paint.

“We really want someone who can take it to the next level,” he said. “To elevate us to the festival again. The times have changed, too. There are so many festivals we are in competition with for people’s time. We want to spark those memories.”

For the full schedule, visit their web site at offering sensory free rides

Festival guests with sensory challenges are invited to the sensory-friendly midway on Friday, July 16. The area will slow the speed of amusement rides and turn down lightning and sound from 3 to 5 p.m.

The ride company, Kissel Entertainment, is offering free tickets to families impacted by sensory issues. During this time, the midway will be closed to the general public. Only those with free sensory tickets will be allowed entry, which are available through the 3RF office at (260) 426-5556.

Volunteers vital to 3RF

The Three Rivers Festival takes the work of a lot of volunteers. In 2019 the festival used 522 volunteers to complete 1,300 shifts, which accounted for 4,500 manhours.

There are many perks to volunteering with 3RF, including festival gear, free drink tickets, discounted concert tickets, and a volunteer appreciation party with free food, drinks, and prizes.

To sign up and learn more, visit

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