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'Paddle away': Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival opens with parade, ceremonies

Members of the Lincoln Honor Rowl team from Lincoln Elementary School honor their namesake in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival parade Friday. Pioneer Photos/Laurie Swenson1 / 4
Kelly Zellmann of North Country Health Services Dragon Assets and her son, Charlie, march in the parade Friday night. Pioneer Photo/Dennis Doeden2 / 4
Ciera Goldsmith, Drew Viken and Kelly Viken of the Fosston Rotary Club's Prairie to Pine Paddlers are all smiles during Friday night's parade. Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson3 / 4
Concordia Language Villages' Sen Lin Hu performs during opening ceremonies Friday night. Pioneer Photos/Laurie Swenson4 / 4

The rain held out just long enough Friday night for the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival's parade and opening ceremonies.

Sixty-six teams, a record for the four-year-old festival, marched to the waterfront park from the team villages in Library Park. Crowds lined the sidewalk and dotted the grass on the lakefront below as they cheered on the teams and viewed the variety of themes.

Sen Lin Hu of the Chinese Village at Concordia Language Villages led the parade with drums and dragon, and provided entertainment and history during the opening ceremonies that followed. The ceremonies included a dramatization of the legend on which the ancient dragon boat tradition is based.

Among both new and experienced teams, there certainly is no shortage of clever names.

Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates went with Water Soaked Nerds, dressing up in taped-up black thick-framed glasses and T-shirts with neckties printed on them.

Lincoln Elementary School's paddlers, dressed up like Abraham Lincoln, formed the purposely misspelled Lincoln's Honor Rowl.

Bemidji Bituminous Inc. went patriotic with Team Red White and Blue, carrying U.S. flags while wearing red-white-and-blue tie-dyed T-shirts and stars-and-stripes bandanas. Dondelinger's Moto Dragons also stood out as they had their own dragon for the parade.

Security BankUSA, winner of last year's Banker's Cup, carried the trophy through the parade, looking confident of a repeat.

Some teams passed out candy, but Beltrami County's Health and Human Services' Dragon Flyz gave out beads and RiverWood Bank's River Rats had colorful leis.

"We got it done, which is great," Co-Chairman Gary Johnson said beneath a dark sky immediately after the event, shortly before the rain came down in buckets. "I think everyone's having fun. ... I think we'll have a great day (today), rain or shine."

"Other than the inclement weather, we had a great showing of our teams," said Co-Chairwoman Shelly Geerdes, adding that today's weather looks more favorable.

"I'm so grateful the Bemidji area supports an increasing number of teams," Geerdes said, adding that the festival has great volunteers.

"It's very exciting for us to put this on," Johnson said, adding that the festival gets "tremendous support" from spectators, teams, volunteers and sponsors.

"Things seem to be falling into place as planned," said Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

Paris said after three years, the festival has become second nature for organizers and volunteers. "I don't know that anybody has butterflies like before," she said.

It's heartwarming, she said, to hear that people plan their summer vacations and schedule reunions and other gatherings around the festival.

She also encounters tourists every year who were previously unaware of the festival and who say they'll be back.

Some newcomers this year include Alison Loftin of Arquette, Mich., her young daughter, Izzy; her mother, Karen Davis of Cass Lake; and her mother's friend, Dr. Debra Meness.

Meness, clinical director of the Cass Lake Indian Public Health Service Hospital, supports the Thirsty Thursday Throng, the tongue-twisting name of the EAPC Architects' team, because some of the members work at the hospital.

"It's cool -- it's really nice," Meness said. "It's good, clean fun."

Kelly Viken and his nephew, Drew Viken, have returned for a second year on the Fosston Rotary Club's Prairie to Pine Paddlers, bringing with them first-time paddlers Kami Viken (Kelly Viken's daughter) and her friend, Ciera Goldsmith, who carried the banner for their team.

"I'm so excited," Kami Viken said.

Jason Douglas has been in the races for all four years, but never with the same team.

Douglas has paddled for, in order, Paul Bunyan Broadcasting, the Friends of the Bemidji Library and Pinnacle Publishing.

This year he's with EAPC Architects, a new entrant this year. He is the only experienced paddler on the team.

"I'm looking forward to the races," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun. We've got a good team."

During the opening ceremonies, Mayor Richard Lehmann praised the strong turnout of teams from near and far and the work of the sponsors and volunteers.

"It's another excellent day in Bemidji," Lehmann said.

"It's truly a great community event and makes Bemidji a great community," said Mike Beard, chairman of the Chamber board of directors.

Today's schedule

E8:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. -- Round 1 of races

E10 a.m.-9 p.m. -- Food Court open

ENoon-Midnight -- Dragon's Den open

E1-4 p.m. -- Round 2 of races

E4:45-5:15 p.m. -- Race finals

E5:15 p.m. -- Awards ceremony

EFollowing ceremony -- Music by Billy D and the Crystals in the Dragon's Den