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Visionist creates festival to honor Idaho's diverse playground


Big summer festivals are back this June with the inaugural Boise Rec Fest--a replacement and expected evolution of the summer event once known as the River Festival.

Boise Rec Fest is gearing up for two days celebrating the diverse recreational activities enjoyed in Idaho. Skiers, hikers, bikers and more can meet with recreation industry reps, experts and hobbyists while enjoying Idaho foods, bands and wines.

The new festival owes much to the long struggle and commitment of young entrepreneur Brett Adler. The New Jersey native has more than a dozen years of experience in event planning, fundraising and volunteer recruitment. He conceived the idea for Boise Rec Fest in 2003.

"Ever since the River Festival went away, I wanted something to replace it," he said.

Adler said he wanted to create a similar festival experience during the Boise summer, but it took him until 2009 to actually start taking action. Along the way, he had to take a big leap of faith.

"March [2009] was the moment I took my idea and decided it was time to actually start following through with it," he said. "I quit my job last June."

Adler envisioned the festival with a recreational theme, an inspiration he had on a road trip nine years ago. He was living in Boston and stopped in Boise for a week. During that time, he floated the Payette River, hiked the Boise Foothills and walked the Greenbelt while also enjoying the city pleasures of fine dining and a rich nightlife. He moved to Boise within a year and quickly started indulging in its many recreational outlets.

"I'm a big fan of many sports," he said. "My favorites are rafting, hiking, camping, skiing and snowshoeing."

Adler later got involved with the Sawtooth Music Festival and eventually started helping manage the event's budget. He became more involved in the leadership and learned how to actually run a festival. In 2008, he was again inspired to start the Boise Rec Fest when he realized "the heart and center of Boise and Idaho is recreation."

Boise Rec Fest launches on the weekend of June 26-27 in Ann Morrison Park. As for recreation, anyone with a pulse should be able to find something he or she likes or is at least curious about. The festival is meant for all ages and skill levels and welcomes any type of recreation: foot, bike or ski, indoors or out, and at any time of year.

Family activities will include baseball, basketball, disc golf, footbags, golf, horseshoes, skateboarding, soccer, tennis, volleyball and more. Workshops will discuss avalanche safety, backcountry hiking, trail running, mountain biking, river floating, disc golf, cycling, wilderness medicine, yoga, Zumba and qigong.

"It's unique because we do not focus on one particular type of recreation," said Adler. "Instead, we represent any form and provide one place to come have fun and learn about all types of recreation."

Event organizers decided to use local vendors as much as possible in order to promote a grass-roots-style festival. Expect to see Idaho businesses such as Boise Co-op, Brundage Mountain Resort, Cascade Raft and Kayak, Idaho Angler and many more.

"We also have really wanted to avoid using traveling vendors, exhibitors, food stands and bands," Adler said.

The festival will also feature two days of live music for all attendees, free of charge. Adler admits he first wanted the festival to include at least a couple of big-name acts, but organizers later embraced the idea of staying local.

"I have put together the music lineup for both days, which will feature all Boise bands," said Stephanie Coyle, a steering committee member for Go Listen Boise.

Go Listen Boise is a volunteer collection of music supporters that promotes the Boise-area music community and helps select local acts for Alive After Five. Coyle said the festival music lineup features about a dozen acts, including Low-fi, Steve Fulton and Boise Rock School.

Finding enough sponsors and vendors to support a large event is a tall order in times of a recession, but organizers have done just that. Adler (who was working as a software manager) said his original intention was to accept a paid position as festival director. However, the tough fundraising has meant his salary had to be sacrificed thus far.

"We did succeed in raising enough to put the event on, but we did not raise as much as we wanted," he said.

Beth Markley with Friends of the Park, a volunteer board managing the capital campaign for the Ray Neef MD River Recreation Park, said she empathizes with Adler's fundraising challenge and hopes Friends of the Park can help support the festival by having an information booth there.

She expressed excitement for both the River Park and Rec Fest.

"They are both strong projects," she said.

Adler later shrugged off the fundraising topic and instead talked excitedly about how the festival's wine court will exclusively serve Idaho wines and how the potatoes at the food court will only be Idaho potatoes.

"This is an Idaho-based and Idaho-supported event," he said.