A River Runs Through It


Recent improvements to the rodeo grounds of the John E. McNally Arena have led to more event opportunities such as the BOO-Tacular Fun Run held in October. COURTESY PHOTO


By Darla A. Baker, The Daily Independent

Life in the Kern River Valley is much like the river that runs through it. On the surface, all appears serene and calm. But, beneath the surface of the crisp, blue water, there is so much more going on.

As the census numbers continue to slowly rise in the communities that make up the valley, improvements to its infrastructure have been going on to keep in step with the growing need for change. The once sleepy community is beginning to see more hustle and bustle these days making it even more attractive to vacationers than ever before.

The Kern River Valley has always attracted tourists due to water sport opportunities which are abundant at Lake Isabella and on the Kern River, especially during the warmer months. However, the community’s biggest draw takes place every February during each President's Day weekend.

The 66th Annual Whiskey Flat Days was another example of how the community continues to build on its successes as promoters report another banner year for the vastly, popular attraction.

Close to 100,000 people attended in 2022. This year’s event was equally successful. As the year continues to slip past us, the Kernville Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for the 68th Annual Whiskey Flat Days.

“The theme for this year is ‘White Water and Whiskey,’” said Orian Sanders, Chamber president.

This theme seems particularly appropriate as the river has seen more white-water rapids this year due to record snowmelt that occurred last spring.

Currently, the Chamber is in the process of hosting its annual artist contest for Whiskey Flat Days advertisement.

Said Sanders, “Our goal is to have that approved and begin promoting probably during the first week of December.

Last August, the Whiskey Flats Encampment area was washed out due to flooding that occurred when California was pummeled with the tail end of Tropical Storm Hilary.

Said Sanders, “We have the intent to have the encampment again (this year), and we are working on that. It’s a work in progress, and we are hoping to have the money to get that done.”

McNally’s Fairview Lodge first presented the encampment 20 years ago. It has become a popular staple attraction to Whiskey Flat Days and features reenactments of Western Days of the 1800s including an Indian camp, cowboy camp, the Calvary and a whole bunch of family-fun activities.

Truckloads of dirt are being brought in to repair the roads leading into and inside the encampment area. So, how many more truckloads will it take to get the job done? It’s hard to say as you can’t predict what’s on the other side of all those washed-out roads.

Even though Whiskey Flat Days are held each year come rain or shine, attendance is based on weather, Sanders said. Let’s hope Mother Nature returns her smile by next February so the KRV communities will have a bountiful year come harvest time for the largest fundraising event of the year.



Rodeo grounds

An added attraction to Whiskey Flat Days is the Wild West Daze Rodeo presented by the Flying U Rodeo.

The rodeo draws approximately 30,000 spectators each year. However, with recent improvements that have been made to the John E. McNally Arena, this number is expected to increase along with the number of rodeo events held throughout the entire year.

Located in the heart of Kernville, the rodeo grounds used to host just one event each year. However, several years back, the Chamber’s board of directors put their heads together and decided to plant seeds in the soil by making improvements to the grounds. The Chamber is beginning to see a return on those renovation dollars as the arena is now open for more event possibilities.

Said Sanders, “The rodeo grounds look great! We have a few little projects to finish before Whiskey Flat Days, however we have some preliminary plans in the works to continue to improve the recreation and event availability of the property.” Various rodeo associations have taken notice of these improvements, and continue to find their way into the rodeo grounds located at 467 Scodie Ave.

Said Sanders, “We are always looking for more or new events to put on. And, we would love to invite everyone to do that.”

Just like the river that continues to run through it, the people of the Kern River Valley continue to build on their successes and the number of adventures that await all who visit its shores. For more information, visit gotokernville.com.


Whiskey Flat Days features the popular Wild West Encampment as a portal to what life was like during the Gold Rush Days. PHOTO COURTESY of CHET STEELE