Daily Egyptian

Festival celebrates 47 years of Rend Lake

By Jeremy Brown, Staff Writer

The Rend Lake Water Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on May 2 with a carnival on the northeast corner of the Benton Public Square.

This year’s festival theme is “Journey Through the Decades.” A parade on May 5, beginning at 10:02 a.m. will showcase the festival’s theme.  

Member of the festival planning committee Karen Mullins said the festival commemorates the opening of Rend Lake.

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“This year marks the 47th anniversary of the Rend Lake Water Festival,” Mullins said. “It’s a relatively recent body of water, but it definitely helps the community have a consistent water supply.”

Rend Lake is one of the reasons the surrounding area is called Little Egypt, Mullins said.

“This area would have floods and droughts,” Mullins said. “Rend Lake helps better control our water supply for our farmers.”

While the festival celebrates the anniversary of the lake, the events take place in downtown Benton which is located not too far from the lake.

Lauren Johnson, another member of the festival planning committee and president of the Benton/West City Area Chamber of Commerce said hosting the actual events at Rend Lake doesn’t succeed as well as hosting in the downtown area.

“[We don’t typically have water events,] which you would think since it’s a water festival,” Johnson said. “We’ve had it at Rend Lake in the past but did not have as good of a turnout.”

This year the festival’s planning committee reached out to Benton residents for theme ideas through Facebook, Johnson said. The committee selected the top three and had the community vote on their favorite on Facebook also.

“We have floats that are representing the 80s era, the 70s,” Johnson said. ”We thought it’d be a lot of fun for everybody to choose what decade they want to represent.”

Johnson said any organization, business, church or group can enter a float into the parade and is encouraged to participate in the theme.

“It’s really up to that individual organization to decide how they want to implement the theme onto their float,” Johnson said. “Everybody usually has a lot of fun with it.”

John Metzger is commander of the American Legion Post 280, which has been in the parade for many years.

“This year we’re going to try and march in the parade,” Metzger said. “Usually we’re just riding in a truck, but we got about six of us who we think can walk that far, about a mile.”

The American Legion is a national wartime veteran service organization aimed at advocating patriotism according to the official website.

Metzger said the parade gives organizations exposure to the community, helping people see what the organizations are about.

“Instead of just sitting in there drinking and gambling, we’re out [at the parade,]” Metzger said. “Remember, we’re veterans.”

Metzger said the best part of the festival is not just the parade but the community surrounding it.

“[The] best part is all the kids, coming out and watching with their families, tossing [them] candy, waving at everybody in the excitement,” Metzger said.

Metzger said he’s been to the carnival with his grandchildren in previous years but doesn’t take part in all the activities.

“But you know I’m not going to ride the rides,” Metzger said. “I’m 72.”

Mullins said the Rend Lake Water Festival is a great celebration that’s been one of the keystone events of the Benton/West City community.

“It marks the end of the school year [and] the start of summer,” Mullins said. “It’s a great opportunity for businesses and organizations to have fun, especially with how miserable this winter has been. It’s a nice way to reconnect with people.”

Staff writer Jeremy Brown can be reached at j[email protected]

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