Wading in the Olentangy River and learning about water quality are only two of the activities planned during the seventh annual Northern Olentangy Watershed Festival, set June 20 at Mingo Park, 500 E. Lincoln Ave. in Delaware.

The warm days of June might seem like a long time from now, but city leaders and local environmental organizations already are planning for what's called the NOW Fest, designed to engage and educate residents about land and water stewardship, especially regarding the upper Olentangy River watershed.

The festival's planning committee also is accepting nominations for the NOW Conservation Awards until April 17.

Caroline Cicerchi, the city's watershed and sustainability coordinator, said the conservation awards celebrate individuals, groups, businesses and organizations that exemplify a spirit of environmental stewardship and preservation in the watershed.

Nominees must live or operate in the upper Olentangy River watershed, which begins just north of Galion and continues south to the northern side of Delaware, including an area bounded by eastern Marion on the west and Mount Gilead and Cardington on the east.

Another NOW Festival feature is an annual raffle of rain barrels, Cicherchi said.

Rain barrels collect and store rainwater, diverting it from storm drains, reducing pollutants entering waterways and providing water for lawn and garden care, she said.

The barrels are made of HDPE plastic and are recycled from municipal use in the city, she said.

Individuals and businesses provide $30 to sponsor each barrel, covering its cost along with an installation kit and supplies. Each barrel is decorated or painted by the sponsor or a local art program, Cicherchi said.

Sponsorships and requests to paint the barrels will be on a first-come, first-served basis until all available barrels are spoken for, she said.

All proceeds from the barrels will go to the nonprofit Olentangy Watershed Alliance, whose mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of the Olentangy River and its watershed, she said.

For Conservation Award nomination forms and rain barrel requests, call Cicerchi at 740-203-1905 or email her at ccicerchi@delawareohio.net.

Environmental groups typically have information tables at the NOW Fest.

Last year, Keep Delaware County Beautiful had a tabletop display of a waterway using hydro beads as the water. Youngsters were invited to pick litter and trash items from the "water," said Jenifer Way-Young, coordinator for Keep Delaware County Beautiful.

"The event is a lot of fun," she said. "Residents really like the opportunity to participate in the rain-barrel drawing."

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Scenic Rivers program took participants into the water at last year's event.

Heather Doherty, central Ohio scenic rivers manager, said participants "net small fish and macroinvertebrates like crawdads, snails and dragonfly larvae. ... People who use a net for the first time are always surprised by the hidden life they find.

"You just wouldn't expect the rich diversity of organisms to discover underwater," she said.

Interested folks also can sign up as a volunteer to monitor stream water quality, and can take a canoe into the section of the river next to Mingo Park, she said.

Another annual participant is the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.

Laura Fay of FLOW said the organization has participated in the NOW Festival since its first year.

In the past, she said, FLOW has brought to the festival a 3-D EnviroScape watershed education model that demonstrates the sources and effects of water pollution.

The display "lets all ages relate to how pollutants get in our waterways, if it's by a spill, litter, car washing on a hard surface, uncollected dog poop or fertilizer applied too soon before a rainfall or if it falls on hard surface," Fay said.

"It is fun for FLOW to see when the lights go on in people's eyes as they understand how they are contributing to watershed pollution, and the simple things they can do to help," she said.

This year, Fay said, FLOW likely will bring a display that demonstrates how vegetation on nearby land slows the flow of stormwater entering a waterway.

"The NOW Festival is a great, family-friendly event that brings the local community together to celebrate the Olentangy River, learn about watershed protection and participate in fun-filled activities," said Jeff Kauffman, compliance manager for Del-Co Water, another festival participant.

"Festivalgoers routinely comment on the wealth of knowledge from participating organizations, as well as how fun the events are," he said.

The festival will run from noon to 3 p.m., Cicerchi said, with the rain barrel raffle starting at 3 p.m. Attendance at the event ranges from about 250 to 500 each year, she said.