Cornhole event raises money for Merrimack River cleanup 

HEATHER ALTERISIO/File photoThe Save Our River Festival 2021, featuring music, food, cornhole and more, will be held Sept. 18 at the Newburyport Elks, 25 Low St., Newburyport. Funds raised go to the cleanup of the Merrimack River.  

NEWBURYPORT — An upcoming festival featuring food, music and cornhole aims to raise awareness and money for efforts to clean the Merrimack River.

Zack Hoover, co-founder of NBPT Cornhole, started running local cornhole tournaments a couple of years ago.

Aside from it being a fun community activity, there has also often been a focus on raising support and awareness for certain causes such as a family member battling cancer or a school sports team in need of money, he said.

Hoover, who grew up in Chelmsford and moved to Newburyport about four years ago, has been an avid user of the Merrimack. Whether kayaking on it or playing cornhole beside it, he has come to appreciate the importance of the river.

As he learned more about the river’s impact on ecosystems and the community’s drinking water, Hoover became a huge follower of the Merrimack River Watershed Council and its commitment to raise awareness and push legislation to end combined sewer overflows.

CSOs occur when there is too much precipitation for a community’s sewage system to handle, causing untreated sewage to be dumped into the river.

“I just think that it’s something that a lot of people, especially folks maybe a little upstream, aren’t even aware that it’s an issue,” Hoover said.

He and his longtime best friend, Dan Leahy, who is also from Chelmsford, launched NBPT Cornhole in 2019 and have been in talks with the watershed council to do some type of fundraiser. The hope is to make it an annual event.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on plans for a bit, but now the two groups are joining together for Save Our River Festival 2021 on Sept. 18 at the Newburyport Elks, 25 Low St.

The event will kick off at noon with beginners and competitive division cornhole tournaments. Some of the details are still in the works, but the organizers plan to have a food vendor on site, as well as a few bands playing over the course of the day. There’s also an interest in showcasing local art, offering different visions that artists have of the Merrimack River.

“The goal of the event is to have a festival atmosphere where everyone can have a day of fun and also raise awareness, as well as raise a little bit of money for the cause of helping to save and clean up our river,” Hoover said.

Entry to the cornhole tournament will cost $60 for a team of two with at least half, if not more, of the proceeds going to the watershed council, he said.

The council will host raffles to raise money for further efforts to combat CSOs.

John Macone, policy and education specialist for the Merrimack River Watershed Council, said he is excited about the event, adding that cornhole is “such an accessible and fun thing for people to do.”

He acknowledged that there is a lot of interest in the Merrimack right now, especially with increasing awareness of CSOs.

The council will have various opportunities at the event for people to learn more about the river and how they can help. Macone said the council has a lot of recent data that it has collected through water testing, which will be helpful in answering any questions people have about the health of the river and when it is safe to swim, boat, fish, etc.

The organization has some major initiatives in the works right now, including trying to protect the river at its source areas, primarily in New Hampshire, Macone said. Some recent grants have allowed the council to explore protecting areas of land along the river.

“If you have a forested area near the river, that is really your primary way of protecting water and keeping it clean,” he said.

More details about these initiatives will be coming in the next few months and will lead to several years of work. For the latest information, visit https://merrimack.org.

Save Our River Festival 2021 still needs sponsors and people to donate prizes for raffles. To learn more, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/295193665738462 or email info@nbptbags.com.

To learn more about CSOs, watch a recent video by the watershed council at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS6ACfygDU4.

Acknowledging a lot more chatter about CSOs on community Facebook pages and groups recently, Hoover said, “It seems to me like a great time to try to raise a greater awareness of this, put our money where our mouths are, and get behind this cause to try and really help.”

 

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