By Ms Jennifer M Caprioli (IMCOM)June 23, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Alexandria Bay saw record-setting attendance during the 15th Annual Riverfest on June 6.
More than 5,700 Soldiers, Family Members and civilians took advantage of northern New York's 80-degree, mostly sunny weather that day and headed north for a fun and historical experience.
This year's theme, "Celebrating Soldiers and Families," was designed to expose Fort Drum Soldiers and Families to various aspects of the North Country, said Joe McLaughlin, president of the Northern New York-Fort Drum Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation staff members kicked off the day's events on the mainland with activities such as rock climbing, face painting, arts and crafts, bull riding, and inflatable play areas for children.
Uncle Sam Boat Tours bridged the gap between the bay and Heart Island with hourlong boat tours for attendees.
Those who took the tour stopped off at Heart Island, home of the famous Boldt Castle, where they were invited to a barbeque lunch, provided by members of AUSA.
"We partner to do (this) so that our Families can get out on a beautiful day, see what the Thousand Islands (region) has to offer, and have a little fun," McLaughlin explained of the 10-year team effort from FMWR and AUSA.
"Over the years, we've grown this to such an extent that we have no problems with (getting) volunteers," said Harold E. Greer, director of FMWR. "(Staff members) from every (FMWR) agency " Outdoor Recreation to Child, Youth and School Services, to the Commons " are so excited to be out here with Soldiers, and we're so excited to (be experiencing) this beautiful weather."
Greer also noted the "total community effort," which included contributions from Otis Technologies and Lockheed Martin.
Soldiers and their Families also had the option to tour the castle and got a history lesson about one of upstate New York's "jewels."
Out of his love for his wife, Louise, George Boldt began building the castle on Heart Island in the late 19th century. Construction ceased when crews received word of Louise's death. The castle sat vacant for 73 years, until 1977, when the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired ownership and began restoring the deteriorating structures.
About 30 percent of the castle and buildings on Heart Island have been restored, noted Joan Ostrander, information aid.
"There's a long way to go," she added.
This is Ostrander's first year working at the castle. She said she was impressed with the turnout for the event, noting that her favorite part of the day was interacting with Soldiers and their Families.
Ostrander mentioned visiting children often inquire about the Mrs. Boldt's room, as well as the swimming pool. And almost all visitors ask about the bowling alley in Aster Tower, informally referred to as the "Play House."
The castle is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from mid-May through mid-October.
Soldiers and Families raved about the day's activities, and boat and castle tours.
Pfc. Brandon Franks noted the cost for the day was a great deal, and he was impressed with number of activities available for Soldiers and Family Members.
While her daughter Dusti, 13, boasted about the mainland activities, Shannon Craig, spouse, described the island's atmosphere as "beautiful," and something she had only seen photos of, until that day.
"I think it's nice that we can get out and meet new people. Our kids even made new friends," she said, adding that she bought a camera for the occasion because they had never been to an event like Riverfest.
Proceeds from the event go toward AUSA, to help underwrite charitable events in the community that FWMR can't reach, Greer explained.
"Our Soldiers and their Family Members are heroes, and we love them dearly. We're happy to see them out here," he added.