Muscatine's Watermelon Stampede has been through several changes, but the event itself has endured nonetheless.

And it is back in 2019 for the 42nd consecutive year.

The race is the largest single-day event in Muscatine every year in terms of the volume of participation.

Festivities begin Friday with the kids' version of the race at 6 p.m. at Muscatine High School.

"Back in the late-'70s (people) wanted to have a road race with whatever town event they had," Watermelon Stampede race director Dell Wagner said. "Whether it be the Wilton Founder's Day or the Durant Fire Fighters' Weekend or Blue Grass Homecoming ... with Muscatine, of course, it was Great River Days. So that's what started the race back in 1978."

Originally, the Watermelon Stampede took place during the Great River Days (which takes place in July) but was moved to avoid interfering with the Bix in Davenport and to let the watermelons ripen a bit more.

On Saturday, the official Watermelon Stampede race starts downtown at 8 a.m. There are 10K and 5K versions of the race. Both starting lines are at the corner of 4th and Sycamore. Runners can show up starting at 7 a.m. to register.

The 5K race follows Mulberry Avenue and does a turn-around in-between Barry Avenue and Sunset Drive, looping back towards the start line by taking Parham and Cedar before meeting back up with Sycamore.

Runners in the 10K will take Mulberry quite a bit further, turning instead on Houser to head back towards the start via Dawson, Kindler and Fulliam before getting back on Sycamore for the finish.

"Participation levels have remained pretty constant over the years," Wagner said. "We're hoping to have 350 runners (between the 5K and 10K races) on Saturday."

Wagner, who is also the director of the Muscatine Running Club, noted that the two individuals who have participated in the event every year thus far — John Becket (Muscatine resident) and Steve Taylor (a Muscatine native who now lives in Des Moines) — will be back again in 2019.

Online registration has closed but anyone interested can show up and register before the event or beforehand by contacting Wagner through the race's website www.machlink.com/~muscatinerunningclub/.

Results from the race will be posted to the website above.

Last year's male 5K winner was Tevin Tovar, Nancy Foxen was the top female 5K finisher. Jonathan Stover won the 2018 10K while Julie Haronik was first for female runners.

"A lot of the (city-oriented) races have fallen along the wayside over the course of the years but ours has lasted ... because of local support and dedicated volunteers that make it work," Wagner said.

As for the watermelons, they will definitely be there.

"For the first time in 42 years, the first-place winners in each age group will receive a watermelon," Wagner said. "In the past, we've always given away watermelons from a random drawing, and we're going to do that again this year.

"But as a perk, if you (finish first in an age group), you're going to get a shiny gold medal and a watermelon."

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