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Water festival highlight of summer in Woonsocket

Brad Zobel, of Woonsocket, shows his 7-year-old son, Devon Zobel, how to cast his fishing pole Saturday morning at Lake Prior during the kids’ fishing derby in Woonsocket’s annual Water Festival. The festival drew about 1,200 people this year. (Justin Harned/Republic)

WOONSOCKET — The annual water festival is something Woonsocket and area residents clear their calendars for, an event that started 31 years ago.

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The 2014 Woonsocket Water Festival’s “Red, White and Blue” theme this year celebrated South Dakota’s 125th anniversary and all military, past and present.

“We always try to bring in a couple new events each year,” said Rod Weber, first-year Water Festival president. “But we really have a great support from people from Woonsocket or people who may have graduated, but we have people that come back from all over the United States.”

Weber thought this year’s Water Festival was very successful. The events kicked off Thursday, starting with the alumni banquet and fireman’s dance, and lasted until Sunday afternoon. Festival goers could participate in several events such as volleyball and basketball tournaments, water golf, brisket cook-offs, canoe races, a 5K walk/run, a children’s fi shing derby, turtle races and many more.

“The water festival draws a lot of people in from the surrounding communities,” said Lindy Peterson, mayor of Woonsocket. “A lot of people come home for this weekend in particular to see their families and reminisce.”

Weber took over for Gay Swenson who held the position for several years. Swenson now helps out mainly with the parade, Weber said. He said the festival started in 1983 during what would have been Woonsocket’s 100th anniversary. The Water Festival’s name is derived by Woonsocket’s Lake Prior in the town, Weber said.

“I am not sure where the name came from,” Weber said. “But I am certain it has to do with Lake Prior, it’s a beautiful lake and it’s our signature here in Woonsocket.”

On the Fourth of July, after a tractor run, the parade had 80 participants, making it one of the more successful events of the Water Festival, Weber said.

Perhaps one of the most popular events was the firefighter challenge. Two teams of firefighters had three men on either side of an old keg hanging 20 feet in the air. Each team used its own fire truck hose to try to push the keg past the opponent’s line. There was about 50 feet between each opposing team and the keg, sort of like tug-of-war, Weber said.

“It’s hard to say that one event sticks out,” Weber said. “The firefighters challenge and the brisket cookoff were two of the new events we tried this year, but they were successful.”

Another new event was the fireman’s ATV mud challenge, which featured two separate races for kids and adults.

Weber said the festival attracted about 1,200 people. The local fi re department puts on a fi reworks show around the lake on the Fourth of July and raised $1,500 in donations.

“We spend about $3,000 in fireworks,” Weber said. “So we raised about half the money by asking for donations around the lake.”

An annual popular event is the kids’ fishing derby.

In her fifth year coordinating the event held at Lake Prior, Woonsocket native Shelley Schlicht hosted 46 children.

The children are split into three age groups, 5 years or younger, 6 to 10 years old and 11 to 14 years old. The kids go out and fi sh for an hour and a half, then Schlicht judges the fish the kids caught.

Schlicht looks for the biggest fish in each age group, smallest fish and the most fish caught in each age group.

“Everybody gets a prize,” Schlicht said. “It’s a good activity for the families to come and do together. It is a contest, but it’s more about spending time with family.”