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Feeling the heat: Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival brings strong competition on race day (PHOTO GALLERY)

Dragon boat teams race in the second round of heats on Saturday in the 14th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- All 54 teams participating in the 14th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival were feeling the heat Saturday.

According to the National Weather Service, Bemidji reached a high of 88 degrees Saturday, with clear skies and plenty of sun for most of the day. But the heat didn't stop the strong competition or the large crowd of spectators from finding a spot on the hill along the waterfront to take in the race day events.

“This is a fantastic turnout today -- it is very hot,” said organizing committee member Rosie Berg. “It is fun to look out on the hill and see all the shade, that’s where all the people are.”

Teams were split into two heats for challenge round races. After both rounds of races, the top teams were placed into a bronze, silver, gold and champion division for the dragon boat finals.

Food, beverages and entertainment were also available on the waterfront, at the Dragon’s Den. In fact, the festival announcer, Brian Bissonette of Paul Bunyan Communications, frequently reminded the crowd to keep hydrated and safe while they watched. Later on, he added that the festival had broken a record for water sales at the event.


Brenda Bailey, Dragon Boat volunteer coordinator, said the 14th annual event brought in about 170 volunteers, working to make sure the weekend went smoothly.

Berg said she loves to see the community take part in the event and looks forward to seeing what the organizations will do with the proceeds raised over the weekend and what benefit that will bring to the community.

“It is fun to put this on for the community, but when it comes down to it, it is a fundraiser for the chamber and others who help us put this on,” Berg said.

The Dragon Boat Festival has become a tradition for many. For Berg, that tradition happens to be close to her heart. Not only does her family row on the Bemidji Rotary dragon boat, they also celebrate no matter their outcome.

“My favorite part is my family coming to town,” Berg said. “My daughter was born on dragon boat weekend, 12 years ago today -- my family comes to town every year to celebrate her birthday and that is my favorite piece.”

Saturday’s race day events wrap up the weekend for the Dragon Boat Festival. Winners in all four final categories took home medals. There were also many non-racing awards given out throughout the day. Traveling trophies were given out to the best team in a variety of categories including banks, civic organizations, media teams and health teams.


"Overall, it's just a really fun day for the city," Bailey said.

Natalie Hilden is the Pioneer's summer reporting intern. She graduated from Nevis High School in 2017 and is now finishing up her bachelor's degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. She is majoring in News Editorial Journalism with a minor in design studies. Apart from journalism she paints and draws in her free time and enjoys watching women's soccer.
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