Water Follies is only days away and race organizers for boats large and small are making more of an effort to spruce up the Columbia River shoreline and Columbia Park’s fishing pond.
Invasive milfoil is abundant around the dock at the east boat launch and around the pits for the hydroplane boats at the Kennewick park, Follies organizers told the Herald. The green frilly strands are unsightly but can also affect boats’ performance in the water.
The situation is worse in the Family Fishing Pond. Milfoil is a minor problem compared with the stagnant mass of green algae floating over much of the water’s surface. It’s also impossible for the radio-controlled boats racing in the R/C Unlimiteds club’s Columbia Cup to get through the pond scum.
“Twenty feet out from the shoreline, it’s solid,” said club organizer Bob Brackett.
About a dozen hydroplane boats are scheduled to vie for the HAPO Gold Cup on the Columbia River this weekend. The event draws tens of thousands of people to Columbia Park to watch the races as well as enjoy food and other entertainment.
R/C Unlimited’s annual race pits model hydroplane boats against each other on a marked course on the fishing pond. The boats are one-eighth the size of regular hydroplanes. The mini versions travel about 60 mph. About 40 entries were in last year’s competition.
Cleaning up the water ahead of the Follies weekend is an annual necessity, organizers said. Milfoil is common in the river but organizers usually only have to spend a couple of hours thinning out the biggest patches to minimize problems for boats.
But a mild winter that failed to kill off much of last season’s growth and a hot summer that has raised water temperatures means a bumper crop of milfoil this year.
Follies staff have reached out to a local irrigation district to borrow a device it uses to cut milfoil that chokes up the Yakima River near its headgates, said water operations manager Michael Hendricks. He’s also looked into renting such a machine, but workers might also take a simpler approach — dragging a chain slowly behind small motorboat to wrap up and pull out the weeds.
“We’ll get it out of there one way or another,” Hendricks said.
Milfoil is less of problem for the R/C boats, Brackett said, especially since the pond’s water level will be raised ahead of Follies this weekend.
But the algal bloom is worse in the north portion of the pond, where the club typically sets up its 650-foot-long race course.
“When it gets like this, (the boats) won’t even run,” Brackett said. “They would stall immediately.”
Brackett’s son tested out a rake to remove some of the algae in one small area but was unable to make much progress. That led to the decision to move the race to the south side of the pond, closer to Highway 240, but this will require that the course be shortened.
Regardless, the races will go on, and Brackett said he and other R/C enthusiasts will work to make the situation work as best as possible.