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Northwest Water Carnival

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In the days before texting, tanning booths, sunblock, and fat-free ice cream, back before the Trolley was red or today's classic cars were classic, the Jaycees were throwing an annual summer celebration that hasn't stopped making waves since.

75 years later after its inception, the Northwest Water Carnival is still a yearly highlight in the lakes area, making it one of Minnesota's longest running festivals and an excellent opportunity for tourists and residents alike to jump into ten days of all Detroit Lakes has to offer.

And, as it turns out, Detroit Lakes has quite a bit to offer.

This year's Water Carnival, scheduled for Friday, July 9 through Sunday, July 18, boasts 60 exciting events - up 12 from last year - over ten jam-packed days, a feat accomplished by 50-plus membership in the Jaycees.

"We have the people power to make it all happen," Johnna Thorson said. Thorson, who served as the club's president last year, is sharing this year's Water Carnival admiralship with husband Chris and their fellow Jaycees Nathan and Jackie Weber.

"We have 35 years of Water Carnival experience between the four of us," Thorson said. "We knew we could work together to make it a good year."

Thorson noted that good communication between the quadmirals has kept everyone involved in the planning process and helped them find that four heads are better than one when troubleshooting and trying to make the 75th anniversary the best Water Carnival yet.

"When you get to the 75th year, you want it to be special," Thorson said. "We've added lots of little things. We have 16 new or resurrected events."

After questions from community members about why certain events have been absent in recent years, the admirals realized many current Jaycees hadn't been involved long enough to realize what Water Carnival week was missing.

This year, veteran attendees will see old favorites return, like the watermelon feed, boat parade, toddler trot, and water ski show. The Winnipeg Police pipe and drum band will also be back to march in the finale Parade of the Northwest, a continual favorite that Thorson promises will be "as fun as always."

This summer will also see the return of bed racing, which will ask teams of five to form, raise funds, decorate beds, and race them through the City Park parking lot while onlookers enjoy ice cream compliments of their Water Carnival buttons. All pledges will go to the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center to purchase news beds and bedding.

"We're bringing (old events) back to breathe some new life into them and shake things up a bit," Thorson said.

Like every year since 1935, fresh events have also been added to the lineup. These include a reception for past queens following the Miss Northwest Pageant, a kickoff dance, the incorporation of Water Carnival-themed library programs, a tennis tournament, and a youth basketball competition.

Admirals are also looking to make a tribute to Water Carnival's history.

"We are hoping to get classic cars to represent each year for the classic car cruise," Thorson said. "We'd love to see it happen."

Anyone with a classic car dating from the past 75 years is asked to contact the admirals if they are interested in lending it to the cause.

"We've made some significant changes to the schedule," Thorson added.

This year, the traditional Wednesday night water fights will move to Friday the 16th, "to make it more of an all-night atmosphere." The admirals felt this would allow out-of-towners a better chance to get involved, as well as eliminating the need to get up early for work the following morning.

Of course, everybody's favorites will be back for the 75th. Events like the demo derby, the Great Admiral's Hat Hunt, kids games in the park, and music in the beer garden will all return for another year's worth of friends, fun, laughs, liquor, games and giggles.

Water Carnival's history couldn't have been created without the collaboration of the entire town, which dates back as far as the festival does.

"We are so grateful for the overwhelming support of area businesses," Thorson said, adding that many new businesses are contributing this year despite the economy's desperate state.

"We don't have to skimp. We can make it what it needs to be."

This year's Water Carnival promises to be a thrilling culmination of 75 years' worth of summertime splashing.

Water Carnival buttons and event brochures are available at the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses participating in Button Daze, which span Sunday to Sunday.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit

"As always, we're praying for nice weather, but we have no control over that," Thorson said. "Water Carnival's going to happen rain or shine. We'll get wet either way."

Just like we've been doing for the past 75 years.

Schedule highlights

Friday, July 9: 7 p.m. - Miss Northwest Pageant, Historic Holmes Theatre; 8 p.m.-midnight - Kick-off dance featuring Sell Out Stereo, Pavilion

Saturday, July 10: 7-9 a.m. - Midsummer Bike Tour, Pavilion; 9 a.m. - Geocache, Pavilion; 9 a.m. -Fly-In & Pancake Breakfast, DL Airport; 5 p.m. gates open, 6 p.m. start - Demolition Derby, Fairgrounds

Sunday, July 11: 1 p.m. - Boat Parade, City Beach; 1:30 p.m. - Frog Jump & Turtle Race, City Park; 2 p.m. - Water Balloon Toss, City Park; 3-5 p.m. - Concert featuring Doc-n-the-Scrubs, City Park Bandshell

Monday, July 12: 6 p.m. - Junior Pageant, Pavilion; 7 p.m. - Kids Music Show featuring Tim Eggebraaten, City Park Bandstand

Tuesday, July 13: 9:30 p.m. - Movie in the Park, City Park Bandshell; 9 p.m. - Night Golf, Lakeview Course at DL Country Club

Wednesday, July 14: 6 p.m. - Bed Races, City Park; 6 p.m. - Ice Cream Social, City Park; 7:30 p.m. - Baseball: DL Angels vs. NY Mills, Washington Park

Thursday, July 15: 5 p.m. - Bingo, Pavilion; 7-10 p.m. - Home Brew Contest & Beer Tasting, Zorbaz

Friday, July 16: 6:30 p.m. - Water Fights, City Park; 8 p.m.-midnight - Polka at the Pavilion, Pavilion

Saturday, July 17: 7 a.m. - Fun Run/Walk, Pavilion; 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Chili & Salsa Cook-off, Pavilion; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. - Live Music: Island Time, Pavilion Beer Garden; 10:30 a.m. - Pet & Doll Parade, Holy Rosary; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. - Classic Car Show, City Park; 11:15 a.m. - Family Picnic, City Park; 1:30-3:30 p.m. - Live Music: Emma Wood with Keith Thornby, Pavilion Beer Garden; 2 p.m. - Ship Building Contest, Pavilion; 3 p.m. - Sandcastle Contest, Beach by Pavilion; 4-6 p.m. - Live Music: Vincent and the Van-goes, Pavilion Beer Garden; 8 p.m.-midnight - Bash on the Beach featuring Troubadour, Pavilion

Sunday, July 18: 8-11:30 a.m. - Knights of Columbus Pancake Breakfast, Pavilion; 12:45 p.m. - Classic Car Cruise, Washington Avenue; 1 p.m. - Parade of the Northwest, Washington Avenue; 3:30 p.m. - Water Ski Show featuring Shockwaves, City Beach

For more information about the Northwest Water Carnival and a complete schedule of events, visit