PASCO — Bob and Jan Greenwell and their neighbors have the best seats in the house for the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup. They live along the Pasco shoreline of the Columbia River and have an unobstructed view of the unlimited hydroplane races during Tri-Cities Water Follies.
And they enjoy sharing it with family and friends every year during Follies weekend, as do many of their neighbors.
"My father built this house in 1959, so we've been watching the races here for nearly every year of the full 45 years," Greenwell said, pausing while a jet fighter -- part of the Over the River Air Show -- thundered past.
"We've missed maybe two years. We just can't imagine not doing this. It's always a great gathering. We have family and friends over, and people you might not have seen in a year or so," he said.
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A festive atmosphere prevailed in yards and on decks along the river Saturday, with volleyball, slip 'n' slides, squirt guns, dunk tanks, beach balls, barbecues and plenty of beverages part of the tableau.
For many homeowners and others along the river, Water Follies is an event best enjoyed with company.
"I was morally obligated to have people over," said Nolan Clark, surveying a gathering of at least 100 largely 20-something friends in his backyard. "If you have a house on the river like this, why not?"
Next door, the gathering at the home of Don and Sandy Smith was more subdued, but definitely lighthearted.
"We enjoy having people over for this," Don Smith said. "We have to read the paper after it's done to see who won it. It's the atmosphere for us. (Sunday) we light up the barbecue and we'll have lots of people over, a lot of our church friends will be over.
"My wife sends out 50 to 60 invitations every year," he said.
Festivities continue today on both side of the river, with opening ceremonies complete with a jet flyover starting at 10 a.m. Organizers of Water Follies had estimated about 65,000 would attend the Tri-Cities' signature event this weekend, but they were surprised at the size of the crowds Saturday on both sides of the river.
"It was insanely busy (Saturday). There were so many people in the (Columbia) park, and on the Pasco side, there were more people in the general admission area than we typically see," said Kathy Powell, event director.
"One of the most amazing things is that while it was crowded, everyone was so well-behaved. There were lots of kids and lots of families, and we are absolutely thrilled to see that because we have worked so hard to make this a family, community event," she said.
Police reported few crowd-related issues Saturday in Columbia Park or in the viewing area on the Pasco side of the river, and fewer medical problems in the 90-degree plus heat.
Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said officers in Columbia Park issued nine alcohol-related citations Saturday and 12 traffic infractions. One person was taken to Benton County jail for refusing to comply with an officer's order to empty out a beer, he said.
The number of citations "was as low as I can remember," Lattin said. "It's what we're hoping for, that people are well-behaved and follow the rules."
Water Follies is an integral part of the year for many who live by the river along the race course, and some -- like the Greenwell's -- make an extra effort for family and friends. The dinner menu Saturday was empanadas, a selection inspired by the couple's trip to South America earlier this year.
"It (the menu) varies every year. My wife likes to vary it so we're not doing the same thing one year to the next," he said.
Cooking was low on the list of the merriment at the home of Nolan Clark, who grew up in Pasco. He expected more friends to join the party later Saturday.
"I'm not a huge race enthusiast, but it's nice to see the whole Tri-Cities come together like this," Clark said. "This (Follies) is such a focal point. It makes the Tri-Cities a lot more interesting for one weekend a year."
His friend, Nick Cameron of Pasco, also has grown up with the event. But he'd like to see it evolve by adding events to attract younger fans, such as a wakeboarding competition.
"Spice it up a little by adding other things on the side that are going to bring in a younger audience," Cameron said. "It's a great event and I'm already excited about next year's boat races. But hopefully we can add something new."
Bob Greenwell and his family have had a riverside view of the evolution of Water Follies over the years. Crowds have become less rowdy, in part because fans now cannot bring alcohol into Columbia Park or the viewing area on the Pasco side.
A chain-link fence now is erected by organizers during race weekend to keep fans out of the yards of homeowners along the river. During some of the pre-fence years, partying fans occasionally would just walk into the Greenwell home to use the bathroom.
"It (Follies) is so much better now," Greenwell said. "It's really a family event, certainly for us. It's a pleasure."