It’s that time of year again, when the racing boats, the thundering planes and the massive crowds descend on the Columbia River for Tri-City Water Follies festivities.
And this time around, the event is particularly special.
The Follies is celebrating 50 years of racing unlimited hydroplanes on the Columbia River.
And this year also marks the return of the APBA Gold Club — the Super Bowl of unlimited hydro racing — to the Columbia for the first time since the 1980s.
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Races are Friday through Sunday, with gates opening at 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday.
Viewing areas are set up on the Benton and Franklin county sides of the river — at Columbia Park in Kennewick and along the Pasco shoreline.
Admission is free on Friday, but tickets are required Saturday and Sunday.
Getting into the park
Entrance gates are at the east and west ends of Columbia Park, and the Pasco viewing side is accessible off West Sylvester Street between roads 36 and 54.
Vehicles and coolers will be subject to search. Prohibited items include weapons, squirt bottles, squirt guns, glass, skateboards and golf carts and other unauthorized motor vehicles.
Attendees aren’t allowed to bring in alcoholic drinks, although beer gardens will be set up on both sides of the river.
People should leave their pets at home.
Spectators should be spared the extreme heat of some boat races past.
The forecast puts the temperature in the low 90s on Friday and Saturday and at 85 degrees on Sunday, with sunny skies all three days.
The HAPO Community Credit Union Over-the-River Air Show starts at 11:30 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
It lasts about 11/2 hours and features a mix of military and civilian pilots and aircraft. The acts include Lucas Oil Aerobatics, sky dancer Anna Serbinenko, an Air Force F-16 Viper, Air Force Heritage Flight team, Lucas Oil skydivers and the Patriots Jet Team.
Vintage “thunder boats” will perform in exhibition heats throughout the weekend. The boats, from the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum, include the 1955 Thriftway and 1962 Bardahl from the shovel-nosed era and the 1977 Atlas Van Lines and 1980 Miss Budweiser from the pickelfork era.
About 40 radio-controlled hydroplanes will race on the Family Fishing Pond on the Kennewick side on Friday and Saturday. The one-eighth size hydros — they’re 42 to 50 inches long — weigh about 13 pounds on average and can reach speeds greater than 60 mph.
An autograph session with hydroplane drivers is at noon Saturday at the stage on the Kennewick side, and an autograph session with air show pilots follows at 2 p.m.
Windermere Group One Kids Zone activities will be set up on the Kennewick and Pasco viewing sides — in Kennewick just north of the Playground of Dreams and in Pasco just east of the Bulldog Beach Club. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Face painting, arts and crafts and bounce houses are among the attractions planned.
U.S. military branches will have interactive displays and other activities at the Regional Veterans Memorial on the Kennewick side. Red Dot Paintball also will have a laser tag course set up across from the bleachers on the Kennewick side, and Inland Helicopters will offer rides Friday through Sunday from the heli-pad near the driving range on that side of the river.
A drivers’ church service is 7 a.m. Sunday at the stage on the Kennewick side.
Special needs area
Sunrise Rotary is presenting a special needs viewing area on the Kennewick side, including a shaded tent, cooling misters and Dial-A-Ride shuttle service.
Admission to the races is free Friday, and children 5 and younger are admitted for free all weekend.
A two-day pass, good for Saturday and Sunday, is $25 for adults and $10 for kids ages 6 to 12. One-day passes are $15 for adults and $5 for kids Saturday, and $25 for adults and $5 for kids on Sunday. A bleacher seat can be added for $5 per day for adults and kids.
Three-day event passes and pit admission cost $45.
Daily pit access passes are $10.
Tickets are available at Tri-City Albertsons and Safeway stores and at the Tri-City Water Follies office, 621 N. Gum St., Suite A, in Kennewick.
Free kids tickets are available at local Jack in the Box restaurants.
General admission parking is $5 per car Friday and Saturday and $10 per car Sunday on the Kennewick side.
On the Pasco side, parking is free Friday, $5 per car on Saturday and $10 per car on Sunday.
Ride the bus
Ben Franklin Transit is providing bus service to and from Columbia Park on Saturday and Sunday.
Cost is $1.50 round trip, or $4 per family of up to five people. Children 5 and younger ride free.
A senior and disabled rate is available with a transit ID card.
The bus service departs the Three Rivers and 22nd Street transit centers at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., the Knight Street transit center at about 9:15, 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. and the Ed Frost Huntington transit center at 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Return service is 15 minutes after the final race. Pick up and drop off at several hotels throughout the Tri-Cities also is available.
There is no bus service to the Pasco viewing side.
The annual Art in the Park arts and crafts festival is Friday and Saturday at Howard Amon Park in Richland. Admission is free.
Hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
For the full schedule of Water Follies events, go to www.waterfollies.com.