The Riversongs Festival is back. Here’s how it helps Penns Valley

Centralica performs at the 2017 Riversongs Festival at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks in Millheim.
Centralica performs at the 2017 Riversongs Festival at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks in Millheim. Photo provided

It doesn’t get much better than listening to beautiful music next to a scenic river in early spring in central Pennsylvania, and that’s what the Riversongs Festival will bring once again to Penns Valley on Sunday.

For nearly a decade, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks has teamed up with the Penns Valley Conservation Association to host the music festival. In addition to Elk Creek food and craft beer, the event will feature music from The Dilly Beans and Chris Rattie + Friends.

There will also be a 50/50 raffle and the drawing of tickets from the Riversongs raffle. The prizes are sourced from local businesses and one local artist.

“This year’s Riversongs raffle features incredible prizes,” event organizer Martha Hoffman wrote in an email. “(There’s) a stand-up paddleboard (Tussey Mountain Outfitters), a Kona Drew Plus (Freeze Thaw Cycles), a pair of Nikon Aculon Binoculars (Appalachian Outdoors), an overnight for four at Brush Mountain Lodge, and an original oil painting from local artist Karl Eric Leitzel.”

Longtime PVCA members Gary Gyekis and Elk Creek owner Tim Bowser organized the first Riversongs in 2011 to raise money for PVCA’s environmental education programming.

“Since 2001, PVCA has employed a permanent environmental education coordinator in the Penns Valley School District,” Hoffman said.

For those unfamiliar with the marriage of school district budgets, students’ needs and teachers’ union contracts, creating a new position in a school district is a big deal, so a partnership like the one with PVCA is an accomplishment.

“This environmental educator is committed to providing students with a comprehensive understanding of environmental concerns, watershed health, and water quality issues,” Hoffman said. “Through frequent in-class visits, experiments, and field trips our hands-on curriculum has been developed to complement and enhance the work that teachers are doing in the classroom in order to give students a more application-based learning experience.

Riversongs is designed to help fund the position, along with other aspects of PVCA’s programing.

“These services are provided at no-fee to the local school district,” Hoffman said, “so events like Riversongs (which raises around one quarter of the monies needed to fund the environmental educator), are crucial.”

Elk Creek is also a major part of the event.

“With the a focus on providing local food and beverage to the area, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks is very aware of issues facing the environment, and the restaurant is a generous supporter of PVCA’s work,” Hoffman said. “Riversongs is a celebration of community members supporting our watershed.”

Of course, it couldn’t be done without the help of multiple sponsors, and seeing as the event is at Elk Creek, it’s no surprise that Bowser and his crew wrangled together some of the areas’ top musicians to entertain those in attendance.

“I have been a PVCA member and supporter since the beginning,” Bowser shared in an email. “Elk Creek is all about supporting the local watershed, and PVCA is guardian of that.”

Rattie, who always seems game to find new and creative ways to support what’s going in Centre County communities, gushed about the event.

“Penns Valley is my community,” Rattie wrote. “I believe in PVCA’s mission. It’s important that we have an organization that protects our water, farmland and forests. Penns Valley is a beautiful place. If I can play a few songs to help PVCA in their mission, I’m more than happy to do it.”

Riversongs is only one aspect of PVCA’s programming.

“Over the last 20 years, PVCA has protected over 25,000 feet of stream bank,” Hoffman wrote, “planted over 10,000 trees, and worked with over 25 farms. Our environmental education programming reaches 1,500 students annually and provides field trip opportunities to a variety of locations including the Chesapeake Bay.”

The PVCA will host its annual Stream Bank Clean Up on April 20 from 9 a.m.-noon at Coburn Park. Visit PennsValley.net for more information on upcoming events.

If you go

What: Riversongs

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim

Info: elkcreekcafe.com

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.