Colorful Dragon Boat Head
photo © Kenny Louie

Dragon Boat racing on lakes and rivers is gaining in popularity around the world. Serious teams participate in organized dragon boat races sanctioned by the International Dragon Boat Federation. Others participate for charity or just for fun. The dragon boat is a 2,500-year-old craft, native to China and southeast Asia. Traditionally, teams from local villages competed against each other during festivals in brightly-painted, narrow canoe-like boats with a dragon’s head protruding from the bow. A drummer in the prow beats time for the paddlers to make their strokes in unison, and a steersman in the stern controls the direction. Two abreast, the paddlers face forward to paddle their craft ahead of other teams. Dragon boats received wide public exposure during the 2014 Winter Olympics when the Russian Dragon Boat Federation carried the Olympic Flame.

Dragon Boats at Rest
photo © Andrea_44

A traditional dragon boat crew consists of 20 paddlers in 40-foot long, narrow boats. Today, many events use smaller boats with fewer paddlers that sit higher in the water with less chance of swamping. Most races adhere to the 500-meter course, but a few adopt a shorter 250-meter course. Many dragon boat races now feature cultural festivals with sand castle competitions, celebrations of ethnic food, and art and ecology-based exhibits. The United States Dragon Boat Federation is a member of the International Dragon Boat Federation and governs races in the USA. One of the most active groups in the United States is the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission. Originally begun in Canada as a way to promote team exercise for surgery survivors, the groups have multiplied and raise money for cancer research.

Lake Phalen Dragon Boat Race
photo © spikenheimer

Whether you are a spectator or competitor, a dragon boat race is the perfect excuse to enjoy a lake-based vacation this year. Lake Michigan hosts two great races this summer. The South Haven, Michigan Harborfest takes place on the lake’s eastern shore from June 19-22, 2014. Manitowoc, Wisconsin hosts Lakeshore Weekend on Lake Michigan’s western shore from August 1-3, 2014. Farther west, the Phalen Chain of Lakes is the site for this year’s Saint Paul, Minnesota Dragon Festival scheduled for July 12-13, 2014. While there, take advantage of the great walking paths along the Chain of Lakes. Or, paddle yourself by canoe or kayak through the six lakes navigable from the Phalen-Keller Regional Park. For less urban environs, Lake Bemidji in central Minnesota produces their ninth annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival on July 30-August 2, 2014. A well-known resort and fishing destination, 6,400-acre Lake Bemidji offers all sorts of resort and guest cabin rentals with sandy beaches and plenty of fishing for trophy walleye, muskie and northern pike.

Australian Dragon Boat Race
photo © asands

Okanagan Lake, British Columbia is a vacation wonderland. The 86,700-acre lake offers all types of water sports complemented by great beaches, hiking trails, horseback riding, interesting little villages, plenty of tourism accommodations, and even a resident mythical lake monster, Ogopogo. Okanagan Lake hosts the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival on July 18-20, 2014. If a trip to Europe is on your 2014 bucket list, check out the 2014 European Dragon Boat Federation racing schedule with competitions across Europe, including England, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. The European Nations Championship takes place in Racice, Czech Republic on July 25-27, 2014. And for even more international flair, the International Dragon Boat Federation provides racing venues across the globe. Start planning now for the 2015 World Nations Championships scheduled for August 19-23, 2015 at Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada), along the Niagara River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Listen for the beating heart of a dragon…a dragon boat race is coming to a lake near you.

May 28th, 2014 | Written by Linda | No Comments

Amateur mountain biking is a great way to combine beautiful scenery and fresh air with adrenaline-pumping activity. Why not combine a popular mountain bike race and a much-needed lake vacation? We provide suggestions for an unforgettable vacation. And, even if you don’t want to compete, you can still be an enthusiastic race observer.

Serpent Lake at Cuyuna Lakes
photo © Amy Meredith

Minnesota showcases the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival each summer, scheduled for June 13th and 14th, 2014. Some of this year’s events include Miner’s Mountain Cross Country Race, the Kids Tour De Park Races, and the Miner’s Gamble Poker Ride. The Cuyuna Lakes are a series of natural and mine-pit lakes surrounded by the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Allowed to return to nature once mining was ended, the lakes have evolved into scenic fishing and nature ponds surrounded by walking trails and bike paths. One small campground within the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area fills up quickly, but there are plenty of other lodging options within the surrounding area, including other campgrounds. Nearby, the Brainerd Lakes area is full of natural lakes large and small, well known as vacation destinations for hundreds of thousands of summer residents and visitors. The Brainerd Lakes provide great fishing, plenty of swimming beaches, boating, water sports, guest cabins and resorts.

Mountain Biking at Lake Tahoe
photo © dhReno

Lake Tahoe, the quintessential four-season lake, is one of North America’s largest and deepest lakes. Straddling the border between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is a favorite of mountain bikers, and the community is actively working toward creating a series of connecting bike trails to circle the 122,000-acre lake. The 2014 Lake Tahoe Mountain Bike Race is scheduled for Saturday, June 21st. Participants can choose either the 4-Hour or the 8-Hour race. Another well-known race held here each year is the Tahoe Trail 100K, a 33-mile loop on Tahoe’s northwestern shore. The 2014 race is scheduled for Saturday, July 19th. Tucked within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is renowned for its incredible beauty and diverse recreational offerings both on and off the water. Come explore both the California and Nevada sides of the lake by water, car, bike, or on foot.

Chillin' at Big Bear Lake
photo © Konrad Summers

This year, the California State XC and Endurance Championships will be held on Sunday, July 20th at Big Bear Lake, a popular southern California getaway about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. This US Cup Pro Series race is just one of a full season of mountain bike races taking place in Big Bear: the Big Bear Shootout #1 will be held May 31st, another Pro Series Big Bear Shootout will occur June 28th, and the Big Bear Grizzly 100 Endurance race is scheduled for July 26th. Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Lake is a favored weekend getaway year round. Twenty-two miles of shoreline and 2,900 acres of water offer hiking, horseback riding, water sports, ATV routes, fishing, camping, and plenty of resort lodgings near the scenic reservoir. The town of Big Bear acts as vacation headquarters for eclectic shopping and dining, while several ski resorts near the lake offer some of California’s best winter skiing. Come soak up the sun and play in the water, making sure to save some time in the leisure schedule to watch the Endurance Championship race.

Reflections at Mammoth Lakes
photo © Frank Kovalchek

The Kamakazi Bike Games are scheduled at Mammoth Lakes, California for September 18-21, 2014. Located in the High Sierras, the Mammoth Lakes area is well-known as a winter ski resort destination, but it has also developed into a prime mountain biking venue in summer with a growing network of trails and events. The Kamakazi Bike Games offer age-appropriate events for everyone, from children to adults. The Kamakazi-styled races for experienced adults feature extreme speed down steep slopes, cycle-trick races and adrenalin-pumping thrill events for those so inclined. Others choosing a more leisurely pace can bike a quiet trail through the Inyo National Forest or head for some of the famous small lakes in the area such as Lake George, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, Horseshoe Lake or the connected Twin Lakes. The lakes offer swimming, fishing, camping and plenty of small, unique shops featuring crafts by local artisans.

So, pack up the mountain bike (or rent one at your destination) and enjoy some wind in your hair and water between your toes. Mountain biking around the lake will make for one of your most memorable vacations ever.

May 15th, 2014 | Written by Linda | No Comments

Soon after the two-wheeled bicycle became the standard for transportation available to the masses, bike racing became a popular sport. Organized bicycle racing began in 1868 and has grown in popularity ever since. Now a recognized division of the Summer Olympics and coming to widespread appreciation with such popular European events as the Tour de France, professional-class cycle racing continues to grow both in terms of events and spectators. Adding to the appeal are the scenic backdrops against which well-trained, dedicated athletes display their prowess. Some of the most popular races feature lakes around the world. These events become the perfect venue for enjoying a lake-based vacation while cheering your favorite cycling hero.

Tour De Singkarak 2012
photo © Doni Ismanto

One of the most awe-inspiring cycling event on the international tour circuit is the Tour de Singkarak in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Scheduled by the Union Cycliste Internationale (formerly known as the International Cycling Association), the 900+ km event is raced in stages, one of which skirts beautiful Lake Singkarak east of Padang. Part of Stage 6 circles the lake, a total course distance of 152 miles. This year’s race is scheduled for June 2 – June 10, 2014. The 26,638-acre Lake Singkarak is nearly 1200 feet above sea level, providing a cool, green oasis amidst the green Barisan Mountains. The mountains surrounding the lake are great for hiking, and white sand beaches invite swimming and sun bathing. Small locally-owned hostels and inns along the local lakefront roads are complemented by numerous little cafes and restaurants serving the famed local dish of spicy, crisp bilih fish, caught fresh in Lake Singkarak. Rent a boat or take a locally-offered cruise to see the lake. The famous surfing beaches of West Sumatra are only a couple of hours away, as are the chief cultural centers of the Minangkabau native population. Rent a bicycle and take your own slow-paced bike ride around the lakeshore of beautiful Lake Singkarak.

Dal Lake Houseboat
photo © Basharat Alam Shah

For the first time in 2012, an international-class race featured a leg around colorful Dal Lake, India. Formerly called the Tour de Kashmir, the addition of the Dal Lake stage has changed the name and scope of the course to the Tour de India. In existence in various forms since 2000, the increasingly popular race is sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The 2013 race was held in early December; the dates for this year’s race have not yet been announced. The addition of the loop around Dal Lake in the Srinagar region adds an additional scenic and cultural appeal to this event for participants from many countries. Set against a backdrop of the Himalayan Mountains, Dal Lake’s 2700 acres are well-known for the ornate Victorian-era houseboats which can be rented by visitors for overnight stays. The lake offers kayaking, canoeing and windsurfing while the shoreline holds many acres of decorative gardens, several very old Mughal monuments, local craftsmen’s shops and plenty of local excursions to the surrounding area.

<BRTour of Utah 2013
photo ©

Sanctioned by USA Cycling and the UCI, the staged Tour of Utah race is scheduled for August 4-10, 2014. As the biggest race after the Tour de France each year, the Tour of Utah is considered a top cycling event, drawing professional racers from all over the world. The race consists of seven ‘stages’, with Stage 3 this year beginning at Lehi, on the banks of Utah Lake, and Stage 4 skirting Pineview Reservoir on the route from Ogden to Powder Mountain. Utah Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the state (96,900 acres), offering boating, sailing and camping at Utah Lake State Park. Stage 6 begins at Salt Lake City near the shoreline of famous Great Salt Lake before heading south and up into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Great Salt Lake (1,088,000 acres) is a must-see destination while in the area, with several nature preserves, stunning saltwater vistas, large numbers of birds and waterfowl, and beautiful Antelope Island. Antelope Island State Park offers camping, sailing and swimming in the buoyant salt lake. The well-known attractions of Salt Lake City are all within a couple of miles.

Cascade Cycling Classic 2011
photo © Jerrad Miller

The 35th annual Cascade Cycling Classic is planned for July 16-20, 2014 in Bend, Oregon. Stage 1 passes by several of the Cascade Lakes, including Sparks Lake, Elk Lake, Lava Lake, Crane Prairie Reservoir, Cactus Lake and Wickiup Reservoir along the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. Wickiup Reservoir is noted for its fine fishing and multiple campgrounds. Enjoy a week of water sports, trophy brown trout fishing, and camping under a canopy of stars at the 11,000-acre reservoir. Leave Friday, July 18th free to watch the bike racers pedal past. Make your lake-based vacation do double-duty this year by taking in a pro-quality cycle race. A good time will be had by all. Peddle on!

Fox River Autumn
photo © anneh632

A mild winter and an early spring have lakelubbers in the Upper Midwest planning for a trip to the Fox River Chain O’Lakes. The 15-lake chain in the Chicagoland area is one of the most popular boating destinations in the United States. Boats are being hauled out of storage, their water-loving owners are prepping the gear and pouring over catalogs for new water toys to add to the fun they will soon enjoy. Only 50 miles from downtown Chicago’s Loop, the lakes in the chain are popular residential lakes for commuters. Important in the development of the Upper Midwest, channels and dams along the Fox River in Illinois provided water for the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the mid-1800s and allowed the canal to cross above the Fox River via aqueduct. Water travel was supplanted in the early 1900s by rail travel, but the improved waterway quickly became a popular destination for Midwestern boaters and anglers. Many boaters head for the Fox Chain O’Lakes every possible summer weekend.

Although the Fox Chain O’Lakes and the Fox Waterway extend across 118 miles of Illinois wetland and prairie, there is another part of the Fox River to the north in Wisconsin. Sometimes confused with the better-known Fox River of northern Wisconsin which flows into Green Bay, the Wisconsin-Illinois Fox River actually begins near Menomonee Falls, west of Milwaukee. The Wisconsin portion of the Fox River meanders for 84 miles through lakes, across dams and a 1,132-acre reservoir called Tichigan Lake before it reaches the Illinois state line and widens into the famous Fox Chain O’ Lakes. Tichigan Lake and the adjacent Fox River offer over 1,200 acres of water and are two of the busiest waterways in southern Wisconsin. The rest of the Wisconsin Fox is a favorite among kayakers and canoeists, with several wildlife refuges and natural areas protecting the shoreline. The Wisconsin Fox River is a destination in its own right worthy of a look-see. The Wisconsin portion travels through several popular residential lakes in Southern Wisconsin before crossing the state line and entering 1,360-acre Grass Lake.

Aerial View of Fox Chain O'Lakes
photo © dsearls

Although the Fox River first enters Grass Lake, this isn’t the northernmost lake in the famous chain. The Fox Chain O’Lakes contains 15 lakes, all interconnected, most accessible by boat and all teaming with fish. Catherine Lake and Channel Lake start the chain from the north. Lake Marie, Bluff Lake, Spring Lake and Petite Lake follow in quick succession – all flowing into Fox Lake, as do Grass Lake and Nippersink Lake. Nippersink Lake flows in turn into Pistakee Lake, where the Fox River again narrows to a channel. Brandenburg Lake flows into Nippersink Lake, while Redhead Lake and Dunns Lake flow into Pistakee Lake. Long Lake and Duck Lake flow to Fox Lake. Griswold Lake is accessed via channel from the Fox River. Other small lakes in the area are also accessible by channel with small boats. The smaller lakes are often shallow and primarily residential, while the larger lakes are popular for water skiing, power boating and cruising the main waterway. The main channel of the Fox River continues to William G Stratton Lock and Dam, which maintains the water levels on the entire lake chain and the Upper Fox River. The lock is open from May to November for boating use. Below the dam, boaters often sail the Lower Fox River south as far as the Algonquin Dam, an additional 16 miles.. Serious sailors often venture the lower portion of the Fox River, but the average weekend visitor usually heads for the Chain O’ Lakes. The Fox Waterway Agency controls the water levels and has authority over the waterway, providing navigation maps and services to 3.5 million visitors who enjoy the 45-mile waterway each year.

The Fox Chain O’Lakes area offers everything a weekend visitor could want; many vacation lodgings, water-accessible restaurants and marinas dot the shorelines of the biggest lakes. The 2,794-acre Chain O’ Lakes State Park and adjoining 32,320-acre conservation area give boaters and campers access to 488 miles of shoreline on the Chain. Hiking trails, mountain-bike trails and nature paths offer something for every visitor. The park even offers equestrian campsites and horse-friendly trails. The area is dotted with rare bogs holding endangered plants and a large number of birds. Fishing is excellent on the Chain, with certain lakes being better known for fishing than for boating. Walleye, white bass, perch, channel catfish, crappie, northern pike and bass can all be caught just a short distance from one of the numerous public boat launch sites. All boating permits and regulations are available at the Fox Waterway Agency office on Pistakee Lake. Their waterway maps are a must as the maze of waterways and channels can confuse the most experienced boater. Many of their maps and services are available on their webpage, and some permits can be purchased online.

Fox River Fishing
photo © James Jordan

Some lucky Illinois residents have seasonal or year-round homes on the Fox River Chain O’Lakes. Housing in the area is increasingly upscale and much in demand. Visitors can rent cottages and condos on the water. Some of the larger lakes cater to water-skiers and power-boaters. Many regular visitors arrange to meet friends here regularly for a weekend of water-based fun. Sailboats, jet skis and power boats all find a place here, with regattas and fishing tournaments holding a spot among the many scheduled activities on the Chain. Although far more law-abiding than the days when famous gangsters hid out here during Prohibition, people on the Chain still enjoy a good party and know how to have a great time. There’s something for everyone on the Fox River and Chain O Lakes. It should definitely be on your summer boating radar.

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  • Jumping Silver Carp
    photo © USGS

    The encroachment of non-native Asian carp towards the Great Lakes is a subject receiving major discussion and investment in the Midwest. As we discussed a year ago, the problem continues to receive widespread attention from environmental groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, regional tourism groups, state and local governments, concerned citizens and businesses. Temporarily, an electronic barrier installed by the Army Corps of Engineers is being trusted to prevent the migration of Asian carp into the Chicago Area Waterway System, but its efficiency and reliability are questionable. A recently-released study of the feasibility of physical barriers in the Chicago area promises to give some direction toward a partial solution . The Great Lakes Commission, a coalition of the eight Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec Canada, has released a study of the logistics and cost of three different plans for complete separation of the watershed of Lake Michigan from that of the Mississippi River. Originally separate watersheds, Lake Michigan was connected by a canal to the Des Plaines River in the 1900s to reverse the flow of some of the streams in order to remove wastewater run-off away from Lake Michigan and toward the Illinois River. Business and recreational interests in the Chicago area advocate keeping the two waterways connected; groups concerned about preventing Asian carp access to the Great Lakes are equally adamant about needing them separated. The recent study, named ‘Restoring The Natural Divide’ lays out three alternative plans that would serve both purposes. Based on that report, the Obama administration has earmarked $51.5 million as a start towards eradicating this invasive species.

    The Great Lakes Commission’s analysis concludes that preventing just one invasive species from entering the Great Lakes watershed could save as much a $5 billion over a 30-year period. Already 10 species have been identified that are poised to enter the watershed from the Mississippi River if they are not divided. Also at stake are the environmental health of the world’s largest fresh water supply and the $7 billion in economic benefits provided by the sport fishing industry on the Great Lakes. The possible impact on tourism dollars hasn’t been calculated. Three possible configurations of barriers were considered in the analysis to prevent the entry of Asian carp and other invasive species, improve wastewater treatment, and still allow commercial and leisure use of the waterways. The three alternatives studied were:

    •a down-river single barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock
    •a mid-system series of four barriers on the Chicago Area Waterways System branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan
    •the near-lake alternative of up to five barriers near the lakeshore

    Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, Lockport Lock & Dam
    photo © Army Corps of Engineers

    The report’s economic analysis shows the mid-system option to be the least costly and offering the widest range of other benefits. The cost of the barriers alone would be about $109 million; the cost of all improvements needed to address flood prevention, transportation, and water quality improvements via wastewater treatment to meet future Clean Water Act requirements brings the total cost to $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion. The wide disparity in cost analysis lies primarily in the expenditures for flood control and wastewater treatment; how much of that cost should be borne by federal and regional funding earmarked for stopping the approaching Asian carp is yet to be determined. At a mid-range cost of about $5 billion, the mid-system alternative would cost every household in the Great Lakes Basin about $1 a month for 45 years.

    A study now being performed by the Army Corps of Engineers is not due to be completed until 2015. Some interested observers say that the administration prefers to wait until the report is finalized before taking decisive action. Meanwhile, the Asian carp are moving north, breeding at a prolific rate and impacting fisheries everywhere they can reach. The Chicago-area waterway is not the only way this unwelcome fish can enter the Great Lakes: some river systems in the Midwest, such as the Wabash and the Maumee, are only separated by wetlands subject to flooding. The Maumee River, emptying into Lake Erie, is feared to be excellent prospective Asian carp spawning grounds if the carp can get to it. In Indiana, crews have finished installing a fence nearly 1,200 feet long and 8 feet high designed to prevent adult carp from using a northeastern Indiana marsh to swim from the Wabash River system into the Maumee River and then on to Lake Erie during floods. Similar to the efforts in Indiana, a 13-mile steel mesh fence splitting the narrow strip of land between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal has been completed to keep the Asian carp from passing between the river and the shipping canal during heavy rains. Other possible entry points are being assessed and projects planned to prevent the spread of these voracious feeders. Asian carp have been caught on Mississippi and Missouri tributaries as far north as Minnesota and South Dakota where the problem is also being assessed.

    Bighead Carp Infestation Map
    photo © USGS

    Since the 1970s when three Asian carp species were imported to aid in cleaning Arkansas catfish ponds, the silver carp and bighead carp have proved highly adaptable to our waterways. At the outset, federal government agencies experimented with the imported carp for cleaning sewage treatment ponds and lagoons. Localized flooding quickly moved these fish into adjacent irrigation ditches and river systems where they have steadily expanded their range. These prolific breeders can deposit upwards of 200,000 eggs in a season and grow to over 100 pounds, devouring up to 40% of their body weight daily in the form of plankton. The plankton are thus depleted as a food source for mollusks, insect larvae and the young fry of more desirable fish, reducing the numbers necessary to support traditional fisheries. Asian carp are not good candidates for game fishing as they seldom bite baited hooks. Some intrepid carp fishermen are successful at spearing them or snagging them on treble hooks where that is permitted. Others have built entire bow-fishing businesses along the Illinois River where they take advantage of silver carp’s tendency to jump out of the water when startled. The often-filmed tendency of these fish to jump leads recreational boaters to avoid water where they have begun to proliferate, reducing pleasure boating on some popular tourism lakes and rivers; no one relishes the idea of being hit by a 60-pound flying fish.

    The North American effort to halt the northward march of these fish has caught the interest of large numbers of Chinese internet users, where they are endangered and considered a desirable food fish. Schemes to harvest the carp, considered a delicacy by many Asian cultures, have not been very successful as it is now illegal to ship live Asian carp across state lines. Markets catering to Asian clientele are often far removed from the source of the fish, and their patrons prefer live fish for purchase. Areas in the Mississippi delta regions where the carp were previously raised for sale have been stuck with ponds full of the now-unmarketable fish. Some have resorted to selling the dead fish as fertilizer. Efforts at developing a commercial cannery operation have thus far not been very successful due to lack of adequate facilities for processing. Although the mildly-flavored fish is considered a good source of protein, the bony carp are hard to filet and traditionally unpopular in the United States as home-prepared fare. Some deep-south chefs have offered schemes to prepare mechanically-deboned fish for domestic markets as fish sticks and filets but are unable to proceed to profitability of scale due to financing. Some have explored the feasibility of shipping the live fish to Asia, where they are considered a preferred species and are declining due to overfishing and polluted waterways.

    Silver Carp Infestation Map
    photo © USGS

    Biologists are working overtime trying to find a solution to the Asian carp problem. Scientists are studying the species’ genetics, habits and environmental needs, trying to find an exploitable chink in this adaptable fish’s natural armor. Studies are underway to find a method of sterilizing the fish or their eggs to prevent reproduction without damaging other aquatic dwellers in the environment. Others are exploring the possibility of poisons that will affect only the Asian carp, leaving other more desirable species untouched. The cost of fighting these most adaptable invasive fish will eventually be more than the cost of separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. But the price of our failure to contain the problem will likely be far more. If there is anything to be learned from this ecological fiasco, it is perhaps that importing non-native species without careful study and weighing the possible long-term effects is bad for both our environment and our tax dollars. The amount of money needed to control this species will only grow the longer it is allowed to continue. Several different methods of dealing with these fish may be needed. And a better method of allocating costs to the proper agency and authority would likely allow for faster progress. Some things require a call to your representatives in Congress to encourage action. This is one of them.

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