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Water Carnival draws 30,000 each year; proceeds go to help community groups

BEMIDJI - It'll be six days filled with live entertainment, parades and family activities when the 68th annual Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival kicks off Friday.

The Water Carnival starts at noon Friday and runs through July 4. While events will be held at various sites around town, the majority of the events will be held at Paul Bunyan Park.

The event draws an average of 30,000 people throughout the week, Water Carnival Chairman RandiSu Tanem said.

"It's a mix of local people and tourists," Tanem said. "The businesses always report huge sales during this week. The hotels and campgrounds are always absolutely packed."

While the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is a huge tourism draw for the city, Tanem said the Water Carnival has much the same effect on Bemidji.

"This is special. This is different," Tanem said. "It's the oldest and longest-running event in Bemidji's history."

Tanem said the Water Carnival is important to Bemidji because it generates so much money for the community, she said.

"On average the Water Carnival raises about $50,000," Tanem said. "We donate it all back to the city."

Depending on whether the Jaycees choose to make a few large donations or many smaller donations, Tanem said each year they give the money to five to 15 different organizations.

"We give the money to places like the Boys and Girls Club, Evergreen and the Fire Department," Tanem said. "Without these places, our city wouldn't be complete, and a lot of people don't realize that. We give back to them to make sure they can continue serving our community."

The Water Carnival started as the Paul Bunyan Water Carnival in 1945, Jerry Hemstad, member of the Jaycees, said. It became the Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival in 1948.

"The first couple years, it was formulated around water events," Hemstad said. "The parade was added in the 1950s, then fireworks in the late 1960s."

The first carnival was added in 1975, and the first entertainment tent went up in 1984, with live bands playing the following year, Hemstad said.

Highlights for this year's event include Flapjacks for Firemen, which is a fundraiser for the fire department, the Paul Bunyan birthday bash and the Grand Parade, which had 67 entries as of Wednesday morning.

"All of the bands are local this year," Tanem said. "We had a lot of local talent we wanted to showcase."

New for this year is a shot bar and pull tabs, both of which will be available every day. For Saturday's bike dig, 18 bikes will be given away this year instead of the usual 12, thanks to a donation from a community member, Tanem said.

"The community support for all of this is fantastic," Tanem said. "We couldn't do it without everyone's help."