When the Kern River is low, so are the revenues and spirts of Kernville business owners. Scant snowfall this year means tourists got just about a month of rafting in before giving up and going home. The town even was forced to cancel an annual fundraising event called Whitewater Wednesday.
"That hurts all the businesses up here," said Beverly Demetriff, secretary for the Kernville Chamber of Commerce. "For instance, if people aren't up here going rafting, they're not going to the grocery store or stopping for gas, they're not going to Cheryl's Diner for lunch -- it has a major trickle-down effect."
But rather than curse the river, business owners put their heads together and decided to hold the first-ever fall edition of the town's signature fundraising event: Whiskey Flat Days.
While incorporating popular elements of the annual celebration of the town's founding, which takes place in February, the fall event will feature plenty of new attractions, all with a seasonal twist.
"The main difference between this and Whiskey Flat Days is that, for the Fall Festival, it's all geared toward Halloween," Demetriff said. "For this, we have pumpkins and a haunted maze and a costume contest; for Whiskey Flat Days, there's a parade and rodeos -- it's a full-on Western theme for that."
But the Western theme is not entirely lost. Carried over from Whiskey Flat Days is the traditional cowboy encampment (though on a much smaller scale) and the cowboy re-enactors, both of which provide a walking/talking glimpse back into Kernville's past.
"We're very excited that the cowboys are participating," said Demetriff.
"In the cowboy encampment, there will be a real live chuck wagon there, with demonstrations on cowboy cooking, there will be real tipis; it's all really very authentic and interactive. It's definitely something you should see."
Other enticements include live music throughout the day, food, a haunted maze, a pumpkin patch and carving contest, face painting, hayrides, a petting zoo and scarecrow stuffing.
And dressing up is encouraged for all (in fact, Demetriff hopes the entire town will be in costume). A costume contest is divided into two age divisions: 12 and under and 13 and up, with separate prizes for each.
In addition to the live music and food (hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches, tri-tip sandwiches, baked potatoes, ice cream and then some), there will be vendors selling handcrafted jewelry and other items, as well as a full-scale farmers market.
Ultimately, Demetriff is unsure what the future holds for the Whiskey Flat Fall Festival, but she hopes visitors will come, have a rip-roaring good time and transform what began as a backup plan into an annual event.
"We have a fantastic town up here. We get behind each other; we support each other. All of us are working very hard to make this a nice event that will grow and help support our town, and make it so fun people want to come back every year."