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After record early entry, Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival registration slows

A new dragon boat was out cruising Wednesday afternoon on Lake Bemidji. Five enthusiastic paddlers purchased a dragon boat for public use as an educational and training tool. Shown above, members of the First City Paddling Club are Mitch Rautio, Mike Huerbin, John Arenz and Mark Walters. Club member Greg Ramey was not able to join them. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - With the team registration deadline for the seventh annual Dragon Boat Festival approaching Sunday, organizer Brian Bissonette is hoping teams will register soon to avoid the lowest turnout in the event's history.

"It's hard to say what the reason is because we had a record number of teams register before the early-bird deadline," Bissonette said. "We anticipated that we would have a festival that was the largest yet because of that but in the last three to four weeks it has really leveled off."

Bissonette said 57 teams have registered so far, 45 of which registered before the May first early-bird deadline.

Last year's festival had 75 teams competing, the most since the festival began. Bissonette said there are several teams that have competed in years past that he hopes will sign up before the deadline, giving the festival 60-plus teams, which would be an average turnout.

Bissonette said the storm last week did not affect the festival's plans at all, other than taking away from some of the aesthetics with fallen trees along the shoreline.

Bissonette said there was a similar storm last year that blew the tent in the water so they are prepared for the worst.

Bissonette said there are some changes to the festival. The Sanford Foundation is hosting a taco fundraiser on Wednesday Aug. 1 and a race day pancake breakfast is scheduled for Aug. 4 to raise money for the Beltrami County Relay for Life.

Bissonette said the last week of registration typically brings in a half dozen more teams. People can register online at or by calling the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce at (218) 444-4276.

"We just want to make sure that people understand that we have to set the deadline for July 15 for logistical purposes," Bissonette said. "We have to set the deadline a couple weeks out so we can get the race schedule determined."