Our Voice: Time to get ready for the big event

This weekend is the weekend in the Tri-Cities, and anticipation has been revving up like the turbine engine on a hydroplane.

The annual HAPO Columbia Cup runs this Friday through Sunday, marking the 49th year of boat races on the Columbia River.

This is the Tri-Cities' signature event, attracting tourists and putting the community on the map. The excitement is here already. Volunteers are organizing, and soon hotels will be filling and restaurants bustling.

In addition to the boat races, the annual Allied Arts Sidewalk Show at Howard Amon Park in Richland also draws a crowd. The free event runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, with all kinds of artists selling their wares and demonstrating their craft.

For those who want to get a head start on the boat race fun, Hydros at the Mall, featuring boats on display in the Columbia Center parking lot is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday. Then, the action gets under way on Friday with a day of hydroplane testing and the HAPO Over the River Air Show at 11:30 a.m.

The true racing starts Saturday and concludes Sunday, but that's not all that is going on at Columbia Park over the weekend. There is a slew of activities planned in addition to the boat races.

Food and beverages will be for sale on both sides of the river. The air show will continue to entertain the crowd between heats and, at 2:15 Saturday, the pilots are scheduled to meet fans in the park at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

For the children, the Windermere Kid Zone will provide some fun. Inflatable toys and other activities will keep the kids busy at no charge.

In addition to the unlimited hydros, there also will be the Legends of Thunder vintage hydroplane exhibition. Vintage thunderboats from the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum will perform in a series of exhibition heats throughout the weekend, allowing fans to see what racing boats were like decades ago.

For an extra $10 a day, fans can buy access to the pit area to get a closer look at the hydros. For those who want an autograph, the Unlimited Drivers Autograph Session is planned for noon Saturday at the Centennial Stage area behind the Lampson Pits. Merchandise also will be on sale, which benefits families of injured hydroplane drivers.

With so much to do, and so much fun to be had, this weekend promises to be fantastic. The only thing to remember is to plan for the heat. Sun burns and heat exhaustion can ruin any terrific time.

Temperatures are expected to rise this weekend, so it would be smart to bring water and lots of sunscreen. Dehydration is no joke and it can creep up on people if they aren't paying attention.

Columbia Park opens at 8 a.m. each day and parking costs $5 on Friday and Saturday and $10 on Sunday. Parking is free in Pasco on Friday, but costs $5 on Saturday and $10 on Sunday.

Ben Franklin Transit also is providing shuttle service to and from Columbia Park from its transit centers in Richland and Kennewick at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The final bus leaves the park 15 minutes after the final race on Sunday. There is no bus service to the Pasco side of the river.

Tickets to get into the races are available at all Tri-City area Albertson's stores or the Follies office at 621 N. Gum St., Suite A in Kennewick.

Admission is free Friday. A two-day ticket to the races Saturday and Sunday costs $25 for adults, $10 for ages 6-12 and free for ages 5 and younger. One-day admission for Saturday is $15 for adults and kids are $5.

Admission on Sunday is $25 for adults and kids are $5.

Water Follies volunteers always do an amazing job and do their best to make sure hometown fans and guests to our community have an amazing time.

If you haven't been to the races for a while, try to make it this year and see what the excitement is all about.