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Dragon boat racing, an ancient Chinese water sport, is coming to Lake Chautauqua during Lucy Fest. The 2016 Chautauqua Lake Dragon Boat Race & Festival provides visitors and residents alike with the opportunity to witness an unfamiliar sport and enjoy one of Chautauqua County’s most scenic views.
“This event is something for the community and something for the lake,” Heather Nolan, co-chair of the Chautauqua Lake Dragon Boat Race Festival Committee, said. Nolan, a Bemus Point native, is a finance and customer relations manager for the Chautauqua Lake Association.
“Dragon boat races [in the US] originally assisted breast cancer survivors in recovery by helping them rebuild muscle and tone,” Louise Wolanske, member of the US National Dragon Boat Team and member of the Festival Committee said. While dragon boating is not limited to cancer survivors, “the goal is still to function as a charitable organization. We find an area that needs help and dragon boaters come,” she said.
In this case, dragon boaters identified Chautauqua Lake as an area in need of assistance. Many residents and community organizations — sights set on bettering the lake— volunteered their time to help make the festival happen.
“Judge Joe [Gerace] was instrumental in bringing about this festival,” Wolanske said. Gerace, retired State Supreme Court Justice and current member of the Festival Committee, brought the dragon boat initiative to the attention of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation which helped organize the event.
“The Community Foundation helps economic development [in Chautauqua County] and Chautauqua Lake is one of our priority areas,” June Diethrick, member of the Community Foundation and Festival Committee said.
Though the popularity of dragon boating continues to grow — especially in the Western New York and Finger Lakes region — many people have never seen the 31-foot-long colorful and ornate boats.
Each boat is shaped like a decorative Chinese dragon; the bow rises into a carved reptilian head and the hull is often painted with individual scales. Teams are composed of a drummer to provide motivation and rhythm; a steersperson to steer the boat through the course; and 10 paddlers, who must all row at the same time to propel the canoe-like craft through the water.
The dragon boats will hold a practice on Saturday, August 4, 2016 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at McCrea Point Park in Jamestown. The public is invited to come and watch the practice.
Lake Chautauqua itself plays an important role in the festival: it is the perfect shape and size for dragon boat racing and features a relatively smooth surface.
In the Mesolithic era, a subdivision of the Stone Age, Lake Chautauqua came into existence. A retreating glacier scraped through what is now New York State, leaving a large basin and ridges of sediment behind. Some 16,000 years later, the lake now nestled in this basin requires careful assistance to maintain a healthy balance of plants and nutrients.
The Chautauqua Lake Association ensures that the lake remains naturally-functioning and aesthetically pleasing by removing nuisance vegetation. “The lake is [one of] the largest sources of economic development here,” Gerace said.
Though hometown wonders tend to go under-appreciated, there has been a recent push to recognize and revitalize aspects of nature, culture, and architecture in the Jamestown area. “The lake has a special place in my heart. You don’t find a bad spot on the lake. It’s a glorious lake to wake up to,” Nolan said.
The weekend-long festival involves much more than just dragon boats. Many local organizations collaborated to provide live music, a Rubber Ducky Race and more.
The Greater Chautauqua Federal Credit Union rubber duckies are coming out of a five-year retirement. Picture almost 2,000 rubber ducks — yes, like the yellow plastic ones often found in bathtubs — bobbing across a roped-off section of Lake Chautauqua. Jet skis generate waves to propel the ducks toward the opposite shore, packed with cheering observers who anxiously await the outcome of the race.
To participate, purchase a numbered duck for only five dollars at any Greater Chautauqua Federal Credit Union location. The winning duck’s sponsor receives $500 cash, and the next nine places receive smaller cash prizes. The Rubber Ducky Race is held at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Proceeds from the Rubber Ducky Race go to the Chautauqua Lake Association and Lakers Disabled Sled Hockey.
One of the many unifying factors of dragon boat racing is that people of any age and many levels of abilities can participate in Dragon Boat racing. The US national team has members aged 14 to over aged 60, and Gerace hopes to have kids from Sled Hockey placed on boat teams for the festival. “We take this lake for granted, and we have to save it for future generations,” Wolanske said.
At noon on Saturday, August 6, 2016, the new statue of Lucille Ball entitled “Lucy” will be unveiled in Lucille Ball Memorial Park. She will be welcomed by Mayor Scott Schrecengost. Among the dignitaries in attendance will be Senator Catherine Young, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, County Executive Vince Horrigan and the creator of the statue, Carolyn Palmer. The Junior Guilders will be performing and the Girl Scouts will be distributing cupcakes donated by local bakeries to celebrate Lucille Ball’s birthday, August 6th.
A variety of food, beverage and craft vendors will be present near the water throughout the festival. The festival takes place off the shore of Lucille Ball Memorial Park from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Aug. 5, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 6. Musicians We Speak Canadian will perform in the bandshell on Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, visit the festival’s Facebook page or go to chqdragonrace.org.