Vauna Colver stood in one of the rare shady spots in Columbia Park's Lampson Pits on Thursday and tried to remember how many years she has been volunteering for Water Follies.
Her husband, John Colver, interjected with a reminder that it has been about 17 years -- he remembers because Vauna was pregnant with the couple's 16-year-old daughter at the time.
The family's involvement with Water Follies has come full circle, and their daughter now volunteers alongside Vauna in the pit trailer, helping to coordinate communication among the hundreds of volunteers who make Water Follies happen.
John said volunteering is a family affair for lots of Water Follies fans.
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"Kids grow up around here," John said. "They're pit kids."
Michael Turner, the event's volunteer spokesman, said with only one paid full-time staff member, volunteers do everything from planning to clean-up to make the event a success.
Turner was challenged to come up with a solid estimate for how many volunteers are involved in Water Follies this year because there are so many ways people contribute. His best guess was 500 to 800 people will have a hand in this year's event.
Within the park, volunteers are in charge of food and alcohol, patrol boats, hospitality suites, operating the pits, security, checking credentials, selling passes, directing parking and myriad other tasks.
"The spectrum is kind of funny," Turner said. "It's the Miss Tri-Cities pageant to the dive rescue guys."
On Thursday, volunteers swarmed to the Kennewick and Pasco sides of the Columbia, erecting tents, booths and bleachers, and making sure everything is ready when spectators pour through the gates for the first testing and qualifying runs today.
The volunteers in charge of water operations also were making sure the water is safe for the high-speed hydros.
Turner said usually the biggest hazard is the troublesome weed milfoil, but because of the unusual weather this year and the high, fast water in the Columbia, debris poses a bigger problem.
For example, one crew pulled a log from the river on the Kennewick side Thursday.
Many of the volunteers have faithfully served year after year for love of the event and the sport.
Maclyn Clouse, a finance professor from Denver, follows his passion for hydro racing to Detroit, Seattle, San Diego and the Tri-Cities every year to blog about the sport.
But he also is an expert on finance and spent most of the day Thursday juggling his activities in Columbia Park with taking calls from journalists wanting his perspective on the debt ceiling crisis.
He joked that he hopes Congress and President Obama reach a deal soon so he can focus on enjoying Water Follies weekend.
"I think we all want to hope for that," Clouse said.
Water Follies have been part of the Colvers' lives for as long as they can remember.
Although John, Vauna and their two children now live in Yucca Valley, Calif., near Palm Springs, Vauna was born in the Tri-Cities and grew up in Finley, and John graduated from Kamiakin High School.
And despite having moved to California, the family piles into a recreational vehicle and drives 1,100 miles to Kennewick each year to watch the unlimited hydroplanes zip over the Columbia River leaving rooster tails in their wake.
Vauna said they usually arrive Wednesday, set up camp, and don't leave until the park is cleaned up Monday.
"Then we start planning to do it again next year," she said.
John said he hasn't missed a single Water Follies weekend since 1978. He even worked in the pit crew for Ed Cooper's U3 piston-powered boat and took the family on the hydroplane race circuit for awhile.
Nowadays, they are content to be spectators and to help put on the event that feels like home to them.
"We've been doing it so long our best friends are here -- other volunteers who have been doing it years and years like us," Vauna said.