The eighth annual Paducah Dragon Boat Festival hits the Paducah riverfront Saturday with expanded children's activities, a beer garden and 40-foot boats carrying 17-member racing teams.

The festival serves as the River Discovery Center's largest annual fundraiser and benefits the center's educational programs. More than $300,000 has been raised since the event's inception.

Admission is free for the festival, while $10 wristbands may be purchased for unlimited access to all children's activities. Races start at 10 a.m. at the riverfront and will end around 2 p.m. There is a 45-minute lunch break.

"Dragon Boat racing is visually spectacular to watch because of the colorful Dragon Boats," said Julie Harris, executive director of the River Discovery Center. "It's such a different type of sporting event that I hope everybody has an opportunity to come out and enjoy it and enjoy a family-friendly event."

This year's Dragon Boat racing teams are sponsored by Ingram Barge, Marquette, Triangle Enterprises, U.S. Bank, Western Rivers Boat Management, CFSB, Bacon Farmer Workman, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Orthopedic Institute, Computer Services Inc., and Cook Coal Terminal, according to the center.

Teams compete in heats -- three teams racing per heat -- and each one will race at least twice on the 250-meter course. They each have 16 paddlers and one drummer, who beats a drum to help paddlers row in sync, improving the team's time.

Trophies are awarded for the top three teams, while additional awards will be given for different categories, including Best Dressed Drummer and People's Choice. A "drummer fashion show" is planned to take place at Wilson Stage during the lunch break.

Paducah resident Lance Allison, who works for BFW, is team captain of BFW/Marcum "Engin-oars" and Saturday marks the team's fourth year competing in the festival. He said the event isn't particularly difficult, but it can be awkward with so many paddlers trying to synchronize timing and direction.

"It's all about pace setting and coordination, so sometimes when you get that many different people -- different sizes, shapes and athletic abilities -- that will be your biggest roadblock in winning the whole thing," he said.

It's the second year participating for Triangle Enterprises, said chief financial officer Lance Morgan, who describes the festival as a "fun, well-run" event.

"We try to have periodic events that allow employees to get together outside the workplace," he said. "The festival gives us an opportunity for all of our employees to participate in some fashion, whether it be in the races or just cheering on the team on the sidelines, maybe seeking out some of the other activities going on."

The beer garden, sponsored by Golden Eagle Distributing, will feature domestic beer and craft beer. It opens at 10 a.m. when races start.

Attendees also can enjoy food and drink vendors, such as barbecue, barbecue nachos, shaved ice, fruit smoothies and more. The children's area added putt-putt, glitter braids and a play area for toddlers for this year's festival. It includes inflatables, face painting and balloon animals.

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