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Boat fun offered in Jefferson

JEFFERSON — Four years ago, the Fun Family Float started as a small event, with a canoe ride down the Rock River from Johnson Creek to Rotary Waterfront Park in Jefferson.

This year, attendees can take advantage of a full day of boat-themed events, including the canoe ride, a late afternoon boat parade, and an evening of music, food and fun.

Steve Lewis, past Rotary president and the idea man behind the original Fun Family Float, said that this year’s event promises to be even more fun than usual, thanks to the support of the city and a couple of new events the city is hosting in conjunction with the canoe ride.

Weather permitting, June 28 will mark the third annual Fun Family Float. It has been around for four years, but one of the events had to be scrapped in the planning stages due to flooding.

This year’s Fun Family Float will start at 9 a.m., with volunteers arriving on the scene of the upper boat launch along County Highway B, west of Johnson Creek, at 8:30 a.m.

It costs $10 per person to enter a canoe in the float. For those without boats of their own, canoes will be available to rent for $25.

Registration will run from roughly 9 to 10 a.m., with boats coming down the river at their own pace. The fastest canoes will start pulling up at Rotary Waterfront Park around 10 a.m. and slower ones will come floating in throughout the morning.

Participants are encouraged to take it as easy as they wish, and to enjoy the ride with family members and friends.

Spectators also are welcome to enjoy the fun at Rotary Waterfront Park and to watch the canoes pull in.

In the past, some participants have gone down the river in costume — as in turn-of-the-19th century bathing costume. Costumes or themed outfits are welcome but not required.

The float will start at the boat launch just west of Johnson Creek and travel under bridges, past an artesian well and the railroad trestle where the Glacial Drumlin Trail now spans the water. It also will pass the deepest portion of the river, while offering views of the countryside and riverside Jefferson.

The entire route measures 5 1/2 miles. A refreshment barge will be moored at the 2.7-mile point with water and energy bars for all boaters.

The float will end at Rotary Waterfront Park in Jefferson, just north of the dam and fish ladder.

There will be music, food and other entertainment at the park, and both participants and spectators are welcome to join in the activities.

Lewis started a way of combining two of his passions — a love for canoeing and an interest in promoting tourism along the Rock River, one of the area’s prime cultural and natural resources.

“I have been involved in tourism in the county for a number of years, and I’ve always thought the Rock River was an under-utilized resource in terms of recreation,” Lewis said. “It’s a beautiful river and very navigable.”

Originally envisioning a canoe race, Lewis soon broadened the idea to appeal to families, and people of all ages and levels of experience.

The Jefferson Rotary Club eagerly signed on to promote and run the event, which in its first year raised money for an International Rotary Club project providing water to a village in the Republic of Benin. Any proceeds from this year’s event will go toward paying off the Rotary Park Pavilion, a joint project of the Rotary Club and the City of Jefferson for which the Rotary Club will be providing major funds for the next several years.

In the past, the Fun Family Float and related activities have wrapped up in the early afternoon, but this year the City of Jefferson stepped in to extend the event and offer a full day of festivities.

Dale Oppermann, mayor of Jefferson, said he saw the opportunity this year for the city to get more involved in the event and its aim of promoting Jefferson’s prime natural and cultural resource.

He envisioned a boat parade, which will be occurring at 5 p.m. down the river in the central part of Jefferson.

The boat parade, involving watercraft of all types — possibly even a “pirate boat” — will start at the Candise Street boat landing and proceed down the west bank of the river to the dam and then back up the east side of the river to end where it began.

People are invited to watch from the west bank of the river by Heron’s Landing, Rotary Waterfront Park and the Milwaukee Street pedestrian bridge.

The boat parade, sponsored by the Jefferson Sno-Hawks snowmobile club, will be a tribute to the Watertown Outboarders Boat Club, which is in the process of disbanding after selling its land south of the Highway 26 bypass in Watertown.

“They used to have a festival once a year that had a boat parade, and people really enjoyed it,” Oppermann said. “Some of the same people who are involved in the Sno-Hawks are involved in recreational boating, and they wanted to support this.”

After the boat parade, at 6 p.m., the city will host a concert by Johnny Rocker and the High Rollers, which Oppermann described as a high-energy classic rock band out of Madison.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase at Rotary Waterfront Park during the concert, which will run until 10 p.m.

“The city has really taken it up a level,” Lewis said.

“We really appreciate the Rotary event,” Oppermann said. “I’ve participated in it myself in the past, and this was a matter of matching up one good event with another and to really showcase the asset Jefferson has in the Rock River.”

The event will take place rain or shine, except in the event of lightning storms.

For more information or to preregister for the canoe event, people may contact Lewis by telephone at (920) 674-9000 or by email at slewis@jeffersonabc.com. Questions on the boat parade may be directed to Jefferson City Hall at (920) 674-7700.

“We’d like to see a lot of community members come out to enjoy the day and to take advantage of all of the activities,” Oppermann said. “Boaters, boat enthusiasts or non-boaters — there should be something for everyone.”

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