Albany prepares for Mardi Gras

Spectators watch as rubber turtles cross the finish line during the 2009 turtle race at Flint RiverQuarium. Thousands are expected to flock downtown for this year's Mardi Gras festivities Saturday.

Spectators watch as rubber turtles cross the finish line during the 2009 turtle race at Flint RiverQuarium. Thousands are expected to flock downtown for this year's Mardi Gras festivities Saturday.

ALBANY -- The final preparations are being put into place for downtown Albany's annual Mardi Gras celebration.

The newest event to be added to the bustle of festivities, Sounds of Praise in the Park, is set to take place Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. at Veteran's Amphitheater.

The event's purpose is to honor fathers whose lives have been lost as a result of illness, violent crime, war or injury in the line duty. Churches and praise groups will be giving performances, and attendees can bring a picture of a father they have lost and post them on a "memory wall."

"The event is to honor the life and legacy of fathers that have passed away," said Teresa Smith, services coordinator at the Albany Welcome Center. "We are hoping to see 500-600 people come out throughout the day."

Public admission to the event is free. Proceeds, which will be raised from performance group registrations and T-shirt and memorabilia sales, will go to four families in the area whose fathers have been lost.

The Downtown Merchants Association and Deceased Daddies Daughters are the sponsors for the event.

The Snickers Marathon and half-marathon will kick-off at 7 a.m.

Saturday on Front Street in front of the Civic Center. The marathon will start on the east side of the street, and the half-marathon will start at the west.

More than 1,500 runners are expected at the event. The marathon course will go into East Albany, back into downtown and into west Albany. It will finish at Riverfront Park. The half-marathon will go into west Albany and back, and will also end at Riverfront Park. Parking for participants will be available in the East Rear parking lot of the Civic Center.

Awards presentations will start at 11 a.m. First place for men and women in the marathon will be $3,000. Second place for both men and women in the marathon will be $2,000, and third place will be $1,000. There is also a cash prize for first place for wheelchair and crankchair participants -- $250 each.

The Regions Bike Race, which is expected to have the participation of 400 cyclists, starts downtown at 8 a.m. A children's race will start at 3:45 p.m., and a pro race will begin at 4 p.m. There is another bike race planned to take place in Lee County Sunday, which will start at 9 a.m. on the recreational field on Mossy Dell Road.

The Mardi Gras festival will kick-off at noon Saturday, and will be active throughout the day. Admission is $5.

Family activities at the Flint RiverQuarium begin just outside the facility at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the turtle race beginning at 4 p.m.

There are still plenty of turtles up for grabs.

"We still have plenty to adopt," said Event Chair Laura Calhoun.

The cost to adopt is $5. Adoption papers are available at Publix, SB&T and Homerun Foods, and need to be received at the RiverQuarium by 4 p.m. Friday. However, there will be other opportunities to adopt.

"We will be at the Mardi Gras entrances," Calhoun said.

Interested parties can also go online to www.flintriverquarium.com to put in adoptions up until 8 a.m. Saturday. Adoptions will be accepted on-site until 2:30 p.m. Teams can also be registered to compete.

There are 10,000 turtles, roughly 1,200 of which had been adopted as of Tuesday afternoon, participating in the race in four heats of 2,500.

One hundred from each heat will make it into the finals. First prize is $3,000, second prize will be $1,200 worth of gas from Homerun Foods, third place is $1,000 worth of groceries from Publix, fourth place is a one-man kayak and fifth place is a combo meal a week from Chick-fil-A for a year. You do not have to be present to win.

There is also the potential for a prize even bigger.

"There is a chance to win $1 million," Calhoun said.

About 8,100 turtles were adopted for last year's race, and officials are hoping for a similar response this year.

"It (the response) has been good," Calhoun said. "We are still hoping to get all the turtles adopted. We were thrilled with the number of people there last year.

"With the weather the way that it has been, it's going to be a gorgeous day. We are definitely looking forward to it."

Proceeds from the race will go to the RiverQuarium.

The total impact for the festivities is expected to be $3 million, which gives a big boost to the area economy.

"It is a huge benefit," said Lisa Riddle, director of the Albany Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "Hopefully (visitors) will like what they see.

"I think it will be a great weekend. It's going to be beautiful."