For many years, the informal "water fights" that have broken out between participants and spectators during the Northwest Water Carnival's Parade of the Northwest have been viewed as good, clean fun ... a harmless pranking that, for some, provides welcome relief from the heat of a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-July.

But in recent years, these "harmless" fights have escalated to the point where any person, pet, float or vehicle in attendance is fair game for a thorough dousing — regardless of whether they are eager and ready to join in on the fun, or prefer to remain dry.

A little girl cheers as she gets sprayed with water at the 2017 Parade of the Northwest. Several floats incorporated water into the parade. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)
A little girl cheers as she gets sprayed with water at the 2017 Parade of the Northwest. Several floats incorporated water into the parade. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)

And, thus, one of the water carnival's most popular traditions has become increasingly fraught with controversy.

"It's a recurring event every year," 2019 Northwest Water Carnival Co-Admiral Brian Anderson said. "Some float (participant) or family at the parade gets sprayed with water that doesn't want to, and then they throw their opinions out there."

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Not that Anderson is unsympathetic: He understands that some people put a lot of time, effort and, yes, cash into their parade floats and clothing, and would prefer for it not to be ruined by water damage. He also understands those parade-goers who simply want to listen to the bands, watch the floats, the classic cars and other entries — without getting themselves, their clothing, wheelchairs and other possessions drenched along the way.

In fact, the Detroit Lakes Jaycees and past water carnival admirals have all done their part through the years to help keep the spraying confined to those who indicate their willingness to participate — by bringing their squirt guns, Super Soakers and water balloons along for the ride, begging to get wet, etc.

"We've tried many things in the past," Anderson said, adding that parade participants are always encouraged to "use their best judgment" when it comes to determining where they want to spray those water guns.

Anderson even has a special message for spectators who start pointing at friends and family, shouting at the Jaycees to spray that person with their "water wagon" (which travels along behind the Jaycees' trolley during the parade).

"My rule is, if someone starts pointing at the person next to them (to get doused), I'll spray them instead," Anderson said with a laugh.

One thing the Jaycees and other participants try not to do, however, is spray very young children (i.e. babies and toddlers), or older spectators who clearly indicate that they don't wish to participate in the splashing.

And new this year, Anderson's co-admiral, Matt Kelly, has even designed a special "No Water" logo for the signs that they will be giving to those parade entrants who have checked the spot on their application forms that indicates they would prefer to stay dry. Parade entrants are asked to prominently display these signs on their floats and vehicles so spectators at least know they would prefer to be left out of the "fights."

"It's a little wave logo surrounded by a red circle with a line through it," Anderson said.

This sign will be prominently displayed on some floats and other entries in Sunday's Parade of the Northwest to indicate that they do not want to participate in the impromptu "water fights" that break out between parade participants and spectators along the route. (Submitted photo)
This sign will be prominently displayed on some floats and other entries in Sunday's Parade of the Northwest to indicate that they do not want to participate in the impromptu "water fights" that break out between parade participants and spectators along the route. (Submitted photo)

Though those who choose to ignore the signs won't be subject to legal ramifications, the rules that are distributed to all parade entrants clearly indicate that compliance with parade officials is required (not requested) as a condition of their participation.

The view from the sidelines

As for the spectators? Their views are mixed.

A recent post on the Detroit Lakes Newspapers Facebook page requesting feedback on the issue drew a wide range of opinions.

"I think the most important part is teaching respect on both sides," wrote Meg "Johnson" Barker. "We sit across from Lakeside (Tavern) every year and always have water guns ready for the kids to use. We also have taught them they can only spray floats that are spraying us. I think having the floats with water is what makes it fun, it is just water!"

Kara Jegtvig wrote, "We sit close because we have small kids that like to be able to see and get candy, not because they want to get sprayed. ... Spray the kids jumping up and down begging to get wet."

"The water is what makes this parade unique from other town parades," Tricia Stalberger wrote. "But it does get a bit excessive. I love the idea of signs on floats ... as well as maybe having some labeled 'soak zones' for the streets. I had no idea that we were in a 'bad spot' last year until they opened up the dang fire hydrant! But my boys loved it."

"First rule of thumb, if a float sprays you with water, you can spray back," Brian Burhans wrote. "Yet be respectful to the vehicles with windows open. If a float has the drivers spraying water, then you as a driver take full responsibility for any damage. I think the thing that does turn people off is the 5-gallon pails getting dumped onto the floats or into vehicles ... The people on the float were spraying, but not the driver."

Kris Tovson, a Detroit Lakes native and past parade participant, asked, "When did a parade become an event to violently soak innocent people on floats that are voluntarily participating in the parade? ... Getting soaked while in the parade and not wanting it is awful! Will never do it again."

"The water fights are what makes the Water Carnival Parade an enjoyable experience," Katrina Albrecht Hoefs wrote. "The whole theme is WATER so why wouldn't you end the week with a parade where there are water fights throughout?"

"It will actually be quite interesting to see how many parade floats choose to get wet or not," Elizabeth Kelly wrote. "This conversation would be better after the parade when we have more perspective. No one's taking away your fun at the parade. Go out and enjoy Water Carnival."

"Don't want to get wet?" Sandy Thielen asked. "Bring an umbrella or watch from your car or, better yet, use your neighbor as a shield — kidding."

"When I'm just sitting and hanging out with my family, I don't want to get drenched, and then laughed at when they get a reaction," Tessa Landry wrote. Another commenter, Cindy Frey agreed, saying, "(I) don't like to get drenched. Last year they got my phone and baby!"

Commenter Burhans referenced an incident that occurred on the street between Lakeside Tavern and Zorbaz a couple of years ago, when "an older gal" was struck in the face by a water balloon thrown from across the street.

In short, he added, "Don't stop the water fights, because it makes (the parade) fun for many of us, but as spectators and entrants, be respectful of people being there to watch, without the water. Parents of kids, it is your responsibility to make sure they understand — and in some cases, it might be the kids who have to make the adults understand."

If you go

What: The 84th Northwest Water Carnival's Parade of the Northwest

When: 1 p.m. Sunday, July 21

Where: Washington Avenue and West Lake Drive, downtown Detroit Lakes; step off is in front of the Chamber of Commerce office at the corner of Oak Grove Avenue and West State Street

Info: www.dljaycees.com/parade