DETROIT (WWJ) – Marking its 5th anniversary, the 2011 River Days Festival kicks off at 4 pm on Thursday, June 23 and runs through Sunday, June 26 along Detroit’s riverfront.

Expanding from previous years, the festival will now span from the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor to the newly completed Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Terminal and Dock, just past the Renaissance Center.

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Festival hours are 4 to 11 pm on Thursday, 11 am to 11 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 11 am to 10 pm on Sunday. Admission is $3 per person.

With the Ambassador Bridge Company’s “Free FriDAY” promotion, admission to the festival will be free between 11 am and 5 pm on Friday.

For the first time ever, River Days will also partner with its neighbors across the border at the Windsor Summerfest on a number of activities, including the 26th Annual Tug Across the River “USA vs. Canada” competition between Windsor and Detroit firefighters. Watch from Hart Plaza at 6 pm on Friday.

The International Tug Boat Race on the Detroit River, which dates back to 1949, will entertain both festivals on Saturday at 1 pm when more than 30 tug boats race down each side of the river. Typhoon Tommy will also return to River Days to present Jet Ski Demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Metro Detroit and Windsor’s boating community can once again take part in the festival’s signature event on the Detroit River, the 5th Annual MGM Grand Detroit Parade of Lights on Saturday at 10 pm.

The Appledore IV and Appledore V tall ships will dock for free tours at the new Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Dock. Similar to the ships that worked the Great Lakes a century ago, the 65 ft. and 85 ft. schooners hail from Bay City and are operated by BaySail.

A fixture on the Detroit River since 1874, the United States Coast Guard will return to provide a unique representation of Detroit’s distinction as an international border. Beginning Thursday, a Coast Guard Cutter will be docked at the GM Plaza for free tours throughout the weekend.

Coast Guard search and rescue demonstrations will also be performed throughout the weekend. Back by popular demand, the Diamond Jack’s River Tours‘ boat at Rivard Plaza will be running discounted one-hour guided tours of the Riverfront.

The 2nd Annual DMC River Days Run will take place Saturday at 8:30 am. The 5K run and walk course will showcase the Detroit RiverWalk and provide a healthy, fun experience for all participants. Cost is $25 to participate.

There will also be a quarter-mile Kids’ Fun Run around the scenic wetlands. The top race finishers will receive tickets to a Detroit Tigers home game and the first place male and female will be awarded the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to a select Tigers home game. Cost is $12 to participate.

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The 5th Annual S3 Pooch-a-Palooza Pet Walk will take place on Sunday. This year’s fun activities include a pet walk, dog fashion show, pet portraits, pet massages and more. Registration begins at 8:30 am at the GM Plaza, and the walk begins at 9:30 am. Entry fee is $15 per dog.

Milt Wilcox and his Ultimate Air Dogs team will once again delight audiences each day of the festival with splash after splash from the long-distance jumping dogs and the ultimate vertical jumps.

The Komen on the Go mobile experience will bring their mission to end breast cancer forever to River Days.  The interactive experience includes computer kiosks featuring details on the breast cancer movement, life-saving recommendations, inspirational videos, volunteer info, tips on supporting loved ones facing breast cancer and more.

Kids of all ages will learn that “It’s Easy Being Green” in the Meijer Kids Zone. Environmentally themed activities will take place throughout Rivard Plaza and the State Park, including face painting, recycled crafts by Arts & Scraps, earth-friendly games, imaginative story-telling and puppet and magic shows.

Team Sandtastic will create one 50-ton and two 10-ton sand sculptures that will showcase Michigan’s natural resources. The towering sand sculptures will be built near Rivard Plaza and an open sand area nearby will allow children, and adults alike, to learn the art of creating their own one-of-kind sand masterpieces.

River Days will feature more than 50 live concerts including an outstanding mix of iconic and Grammy-winning artists, Chaka Khan, Macy Gray and WAR, along with some of metro Detroit’s best musical acts.

New to the festival is the GM Art Fair on the River. More than a dozen GM employees will participate in this unique art fair that showcases their variety of artwork across different mediums in booths near the GM Plaza. The artwork will be for both viewing and purchase.

On Saturday, River Days will be one of 57 cities across the world taking part in the Global Water Dances. Encircling the globe, these performances use dance and music to raise awareness of local water issues, celebrate the role of water in life and echo the global struggle facing us all – safe water for all human beings. The performances begin at 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

The National Square Dance Convention is bringing square dancing, round dancing, clogging, contra, line dancing and more on Thursday from 4 to 5 pm and Friday from 3 to 5 pm.

Feed the hunger at the Pepsi Taste of Detroit food court, offering a diverse mix of metro Detroit’s best restaurants. Detroit’s own historic Eastern Market will return to provide some heart healthy fruits and vegetables to festival-goers.

Festivities conclude Monday with the annual Target Fireworks show over the Detroit River.

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