River rafters gearing up now for annual parade

Published 8:10 pm Monday, July 19, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- By making it as easy as possible to participate, Tom Majerek has helped to make the Anything That Floats raft race a true success.
In 1993, the Niles High School graduate decided to move back to Niles after being gone for about 10 years. Excited about the raft race, he decided to invite a number of friends over to watch the rafts float by from his property on River Street.
Much to his dismay, he and his friends only saw three rafts pass by.
Majerek, now the event's chairman, remembered how fun the raft race had been when he was a kid and wanted to bring it back to life.
Two years later, he helped to make some changes to the event and it became known an the Anything That Floats raft race.
Even though it is not a race at all, Majerek wanted to keep the name attached to celebrate the spirit of the past event.
Anything That Floats 2004, which is sponsored by the Friends of Niles, will take place during Riverfest at the Riverfront Park launch site at 2 p.m. on Aug. 7.
The rafts will begin at the Riverfront Park boat launch on Bond Street and will finish nearly an hour later at the Marmount Street boat launch.
Over the past decade, Majerek said thousands of people have been lining the banks of the St. Joseph River to watch the event, which has become one of the cornerstones of Riverfest.
But, it took some work to bring this event to its current level of popularity.
Majerek noticed that many businesses and community members would tell him it sounded like a lot of fun. But, when it came time to participate many of them would not follow through because of the work involved with constructing a raft.
By having a crew of workers come out to the launch site to assemble rafts on the Thursday prior to Riverfest, Majerek has eliminated the job of constructing the rafts. The rafts are available to rent for $50.
He encourages volunteers to come out and help to build the rafts.
While the rentals have become the most popular way to participate, he estimated that a quarter of the rafts are still homemade each year.
Another way that Majerek has made it easier to get involved was by eliminating most of the rules.
The only rules remaining are those relating to safety issues, Majerek said.
On Friday, Aug. 6, participants are encouraged to come out to decorate their rented or homemade rafts at the boat launch site from noon to 9 p.m.
Sports is the suggested theme for this year's decorations.
The entry fee for the event is $60 per entry and includes two T-shirts and a plaque for participating.
Check-in and registration will take place on Aug. 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Riverfront park launch site.
There will be an award ceremony following the "race" at the Riverfront Park amphitheater at 7 p.m. Awards will include: Best Raft, Most Creative Raft, Raft Only a Mother Could Love, Rowdy Rafters and Least Likely to Float. For more information, call Tom Majerek at (269) 683-6850.