"Unity Bridge" float

Rob Cortis' "Unity Bridge" rolls through downtown Byron during Family Fun Day.

BYRON — Kayakers weren’t the only ones traversing the Shiawassee River Saturday afternoon in Byron.

Fifteen cardboard boats, and 497 rubber ducks, also took to the water, as part of the village’s annual Family Fun Day.

The afternoon was sponsored by Byron’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA); events included a parade downtown, a bicycle decorating contest, as well as the aforementioned carboard boat and rubber duck races at Byron Sesquicentennial Park.

Rob Vandemark, the host of the cardboard boat river regatta, said the variety of events made for a good mix.

“I know a lot of people came out for the parade, and that’s the thing, they all work together,” Vandemark said. “We need the parade to get the people to come down here (to the park), we need the park and the vendors to keep people entertained and to feed them, and then we need the boaters to build boats and people to watch it…we’re really happy with the turnout.”

The parade stepped off shortly after 2 p.m., traveling north on Saginaw Street before heading west on Maple Street and wrapping up at the sesquicentennial park. Burns Township fire trucks and antique tractors were among the parade lineup, along with a nationally recognized Donald Trump-themed float.

The Trump-themed “Unity Bridge” sparked debate throughout the village earlier this week. According to Shiawassee County Commissioner Cindy Garber, village officials were initially opposed to the inclusion of the float in the parade, but relented after public outcry.

The float’s owner, Rob Cortis, said he was impressed by the number of supporters Saturday.

“I was amazed,” Cortis said. “All these people had to walk a half mile from the end of the parade to get here, so they made an effort. I’m proud of it. People were calling me, making sure ‘Are you coming tomorrow? Are you coming to our parade?’ So many people came up and said ‘Thank you for coming to our small town parade.’”

“You know what? I’m about all of the parades,” he added.

Cortis was inspired to build the “Unity Bridge” after President Trump first announced his campaign in 2015.

“I believed in him. I knew he was a businessman and I’ve felt my whole life that a businessman should be running our country,” Cortis said. “My heart was in it.”

The “Unity Bridge” has traveled over 200,000 miles across the continental United States, Cortis said. After the parade, he stuck around to hand out free “Trump 2020” stickers.

Fifteen cardboard boats were put to the test during the river regatta, with contestants attempting to steer their crafts down a 200-foot stretch of the Shiawassee River.

Competitors built their boats primarily out of cardboard and duct ttape.

Contestants were prohibited from rigging their boats with flotation devices, and could only place duct tape along the seams, according to Rob Vandemark.

A $200 cash prize and trophy were awarded for fastest time, most creative and cruise ship — which was given to the boat that successfully carried the most people in one trip across the finish line.

An additional trophy, the titanic, was given to the contestant with the most dramatic sinking.

“Maximum Effort,” built by Jake Vandemark, Rob’s son, registered the fastest time of the afternoon. Jake completed the 200-foot course in 49 seconds.

He said he started building his boat around 1 p.m.

“I knew I was going to build one but I’ve been busy the past couple of days, so I just figured I would wait until the last minute possible to put it together,” he said. “I’m a little surprised, but I’m definitely happy with it.”

Following the cardboard boat race, 497 rubber ducks were dumped into the river for the annual duck race raffle.

A $700 grand prize was awarded to the owner of the first duck to cross the finish line. Ducks were purchased for $5 each prior to the race.

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