Staying afloat

New Mexico Kiwanians revive the tradition of a treasured community rafting event.

Story by Wendy Rose Gould
Photos by Vince Gutschick

For 16 years, the Southwest Environmental Center of New Mexico had hosted Raft the Rio, a treasured community event that brought families and volunteers together every summer to sail down the Rio Grande. But in 2015, Raft the Rio sank out of sight due to limited funding and staff.

Inspired by a community-wide desire to keep the annual tradition alive, three Kiwanis clubs—Sun Country de Las Cruces; Mesilla Valley and Las Cruces—stepped forward to host the event together.


“To have it just disappear from the city was too bad, and we really wanted to keep the tradition alive,” says Jim Pudlewski, secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Las Cruces. “We were going to our local farmers’ markets to get people to register ahead of time, and quickly learned that this was something people wanted to have in town. They were so thrilled it was coming back.”

The clubs were successful, and the event relaunched on June 25 with roughly 60 participating rafts, tubes, canoes, surf boards and boats. A popular class of “creative floating devices” included a Viking crew on a dragon-headed dinghy, a wide-mouth fish that looked part stegosaurus and a long-legged mosquito hovering above a cooler of picnic goodies. Prizes were handed out for fun categories such as “least likely to finish” and “most effective use of recycled materials.”

The Kiwanis clubs raised a small amount of funds, but more importantly, they were happy to keep Raft the Rio afloat and already are planning for next year.


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