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My District: Is Home to TrekFest

The annual event in the future Iowa birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk celebrates all things “Star Trek.”

By Joe Rassenfoss  |  May 21, 2024
heather hora iowa

The mission of the Starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” But Trekkies—or Trekkers, which some prefer—the ever-devoted fans of the original “Star Trek” TV series and its multiple incarnations, need only attend TrekFest in the southeastern Iowa town of Riverside each June to experience a taste of the enduring sci-fi phenomenon.

Why Iowa? The story begins in 1985 with Steve Miller, a Riverside City Council member and Trekkie, who had just read “The Making of Star Trek,” by show creator Gene Roddenberry. The book noted Capt. James T. Kirk, commanding officer of the USS Enterprise in the original series, was born in a “small town in the state of Iowa,” which gave Miller an idea: Why not boldly claim that Riverside just happened to be that town? And why not change the town’s annual River Festival to TrekFest and celebrate all things “Star Trek”? (Read more about the event’s origin.)

Flash forward to 2024 and TrekFest 39, June 27-29, featuring special guests such as Terry Farrell, who played Jadzia Dax in "Star Trek: Deep Space 9," as well as a beer tasting, a "Star Trek" trivia contest and an Intergalactic Pet Show.

And if all that sounds like a small-town event, well, that’s appropriate. As recently featured guest J.G. Hertzler (Klingon Gen. Martok) told the Southeast Iowa Union: “The spirit of this town is incredible. They’re celebrating a real small-town guy. Gene Roddenberry was a cop in El Paso and a bomber pilot in World War II, just a regular guy who had an idea for ‘Star Trek.’”

While there, visit the Voyage Home Museum, which has a mix of historical city displays and “Star Trek” memorabilia celebrating the town’s official designation as the future birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk. By the way: “Future birthplace” is a not a typo. The “history” of “Star Trek” notes that Capt. Kirk will be born in 2233, which leaves many years for Trekkies to keep venturing to Riverside.

We spoke with Rep. Heather Hora (R) of District 92 about the otherworldly charms of TrekFest.

Can you tell me a little bit about District 92 and its constituents?

The great thing for me about my district is that I’m one of them. It’s a rural district. I’m from Riverside and live now in (nearby) Washington. We’re hog farmers. The family farm we’re on will be 150 years old this summer, and we were recently awarded the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award. (The award “recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in doing things right and go above and beyond as environmental stewards and animal caretakers.”)

What kind of town is Riverside?

When I was young, I lived in Minneapolis, but every summer my parents would send me to stay with my grandmother in Riverside. I loved it! I We would leave the house in the morning on our bikes and have fun at the community park and other places. There were no cellphones, so we would listen for the church bells to know when to go home. Riverside today is largely the same, except we now have a casino. But it’s on the other side of the highway from town, which still looks pretty much the same. We do have a new fire station and schools and other city buildings (because of the revenue from the casino). But I mean, when I was growing up there, we didn’t even have street signs.

The creation of the event by city officials is both funny and clever. Do you remember it being discussed?

Steve Miller dreamed it up. And at that time, I went to school with his daughter. We all thought, ‘It’ll never happen, it wasn’t realistic.’ But turned out it was! I mean, one year William Shatner actually came to Riverside. It was really fun. But I mean, you talk about people being starstruck. And even though it was a bit of a prank, the people of Riverside took it really well.

Have you watched the original “Star Trek” and its various TV and movie spinoffs? Do you have a favorite show and characters?

The original is my favorite, 100%! None of the rest of them come close to it. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are the best. The new ones, I’m not as much into the sci-fi parts of them, and the original just had better stories.

TrekFest looks like a classic community event. Have you ever been involved in helping stage it? What’s your favorite aspect of the event?

When I (served) on the Iowa Pork Board, we used to come and grill at the event … I think I’ve been to all of them. I like the parade, but I really love talking to the people who attend. Where they come from, what is it that draws someone to come to our little town.

Have you been to the Star Trek Voyage Home Museum?

I haven’t been! I drive by every day, but I don’t even know its hours. I’ve told my kids we need to do that sometime.

TrekFest sounds like fun. But if I am in the area at another time of the year, what other attractions and destinations should I visit?

You can stay at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort. It has a beautiful hotel that I would put up against about any other. It has terrific restaurants, concerts and a great golf course. (Hora also extolled the “creamy deliciousness” of the Zephyr, a “monstrous doughnut” created by the resort’s chef, Zeph Leaton). Other than Riverside, there’s a lot to do in Washington County and the district. There’s Kalona, which is known for its Amish bakeries (including the Golden Delight Bakery) and its great Fall Festival. (The city prides itself on being the “Quilt Capitol of Iowa” and has a historic village, quilt galleries and the Wahl Museum.) Washington is also a wonderful town with a great town square and great restaurants. The town of Wellman always has a huge Fourth of July celebration, and the town of Lone Tree has a great fall festival (generally in late August).

The area is also represented by Iowa Sen. Dawn Driscoll.

Joe Rassenfoss is a Denver-based freelance writer.

“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events and destinations to the fun facts only the locals know.

The responses have been edited for length and clarity.


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