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Saturday is J7 day in Bemidji: Annual youth rally returns

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BEMIDJI -- If you're on the north side of town on Saturday, don't be too surprised if you see a few hippies dotting the landscape.

The youth of Bemidji will gather Saturday at Bemidji City Park for their annual celebration of the start of summer, the June 7 Youth Rally, which this year is challenging event-goers to take part in a '60s-themed costume contest.

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"That is something that is new this year," said Annikka Roy, president of the Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission, which plans the event each year. "People are going to come dressed up ... and the BYAC will judge who is the winner and there will be a prize for that."

The free event is known locally as June 7 -- or J7 in youth-speak -- and will be held noon to 11 p.m. at City Park, located next to Neilson-Reise Arena on 23th Street Northwest.

The event has the potential of drawing hundreds of teens throughout the day, though this year, because it happens to fall on a Saturday and rain is predicted, event planners aren't sure what to expect.

"We're still hoping to have a good number," Roy said.

Ten bands, mostly local, are slated to perform. There also will be mural-painting and a skate competition at the skatepark as well as tournaments for volleyball and flag football.

Also returning this year is a Fear Factor competition, through which contestants are challenged to do strange and sometimes scary things. While the actual challenges are being kept under wraps, the first year of the June 7 Fear Factor partnered with the Headwaters Science Center to incorporate animals. Last year, the components focused on eating difficult items -- such as a dog food sandwich and a super-spicy pepper -- and similar challenges are expected this year.

"We don't always get a lot of people to do it," Roy said, "but everyone likes to watch."

This year also will mark the presence of a food vendor. Roy said 4 Kings Comfort BBQ, a food truck operated by Beth Warrick, whose daughter is a BYAC member, will be on site.

"We'll have BBQ available that's locally made," Roy said.

The event is drug- and alcohol-free. The Bemidji Citizens Patrol has a presence in case any issues do arise.

In earlier years, the event, first founded in 2000, had a substantial presence at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. In 2008, it moved to Cameron Park due to construction. In 2009 and 2010 it returned to the waterfront but a scheduling conflict with the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic prompted a relocation to City Park beginning in 2011.

"We still have one more year with a conflict (at the waterfront)," Roy said. "We're going to end up staying at City Park for next year. But it's turned out really well, we have the skatepark there and it's really nice."

Roy, who recently graduated from TrekNorth and is headed out Earlham College in Indiana next year, could not say for sure about the BYAC's future plans but speculated that the BYAC may opt to keep the June 7 event at City Park moving forward.

"It's mainly teens" who attend the event, she said. "But the entire community is welcome to come and check it out. Generally, the afternoon has more events geared toward younger children and then, as it gets darker and later, it's more of a teenager event."

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