On Sept. 23, for the first time in over 100 years, Native Americans drums and dancers will perform ritual dances under the shadow of that rock as part of the ninth Annual Hackensack River Festival.
Those attending the event will hear Native American speakers and see Quonset huts, as well as walking a special "rock painting" trail put together for the festival.
Volunteers will build authentic Quonset huts on Friday and complete a mini-village on Saturday, through which visitors can wander.
Native American Beverly Friend - who has held lectures around the state on the history and culture of the Lenape Indians - will start the program around 11 a.m. with a presentation called "The People, the animals and the forest." A teepee raising demonstration will begin at noon - and will feature a traditionally decorated 20-high pole and canvas shelter, like those used in various Native American cultures.
Groups of traditional dancers in full regalia will perform at 1 p.m. and then again at 3 p.m. and will be accompanied by traditional love drums.
This year, students from Liberty Science Center's Explorer Program will create a walking trail with Native American petroglyph symbols of wildlife.
The event is sponsored by the Wanda Canoe Club and the Hackensack River Canoe Club, with support from Hudson County and the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission.
The festival, which has become a yearly tradition since it was first established in 1991, now forms the first leg in a series of three competitions in which Wanda and other canoe clubs from around the state and country compete. Two years ago, the festival moved to Laurel Hill in Secaucus in an attempt to promote the boat launch Hudson County had installed there and to accommodate the number of people the festival had drawn.
"Each year more and more people come to the festival," said Karen Siletti, one of the organizers of the event. "It has taken on a larger, more regional role. Not only are we attracting people from further away, but we have also obtained more corporate support." One of the major underwriters of this year's festival is PSE&G.
"Without the support of PSE&G and the Hudson County Parks department, this festival would not be possible," Siletti said. A continuing part of the event's goal is to promote river access, said Siletti.
Flat and slow
Canoeing on the Hackensack River began long before European colonists arrived in America. For hundreds of years, the Lenape Indians and other native tribes fished and hunted the length of the Hackensack River from DeForest Lake in New York State to Newark Bay.
The Hackensack River is preferred by some canoers because it is flat and slow, and there are relatively few problems getting the boats in and out of the water. In contrast, a river like the Ramapo is fast, with sharp turns and a lot of rocks, not the stuff for novices.
Canoe and Kayak races will be conducted throughout the day with various levels of competition. One overall registration fee of $10 will be charged for adults, and $8 for those under 18 years of age.
The Boy and Girl Scouts will also conduct their River Rat Challenge race.
The Meadowlands Cup - which is open to groups from local towns, civic organization and established clubs - will feature two people in an 18-foot canoe. The team posting the fastest time wins the cup.
The Mid-Atlantic Marathon, sponsored by the American Canoe Association, will start and finish at the festival site. The race will be 20 kilometers long.
The festival is designed to give people a taste for river related activities by showing them many of the numerous activities that can be conducted on or near the water. People can come to see the water festival for free, paying only if they want to race or for associated activities, including food and related products.
Free rides on the river via pontoon boats will be available courtesy of Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan and the HMDC. The HMDC has provided the festival with addition pontoon boats expanding the fleet to five so that people wishing to take rides on the river will not have to wait on long lines.
"Last year we ran with only three and there were lines," Siletti said. "This year no one should have to wait very long."
The HMDC will also provided the festival with a dockmaster who will help people on and off the boats, as well as other boat-related duties.
More traditional music will be performed by "Live Plus Four," which will play standards from around 9 a.m. to noon. Bill Boescnberg, a former veterinary technician, will bring his menagerie of reptiles and amphibians to the park as part of Snakes and Scales and Turtle Tales. His "Kingdom of the Coldbloods" lecture will be presented free at 2 p.m.
Some events such as the pony rides and candy-making have a small fee, while others such as the petting zoo and various sporting exhibits are free.
But be warned, this is an alcohol-free festival and no coolers are allowed. There are, however, many food and drink concession stands where various soft drinks and foods can be purchased.
Festival hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the festival call 973-367-1679 or 732-246-7707. For more information about the races call 201-941-4738.