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Originally published Sunday, August 5, 2012 at 9:19 PM

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Bright, bustling finale for Seafair

While many people paid a $30 entry fee for Seafair on Sunday, many watched from outside the gates — some even setting up the night before — and said they didn't think they were missing much.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Just before midnight on Seafair Sunday each year, Bjoern Gruetzmacher and his Seafair posse haul tents and other camping gear to a spot along Lake Washington and begin setting up for a party.

The way they see it, they're technically not violating Seattle's ban on overnight camping in its parks, since it's already Sunday by the time they roll out their sleeping bags for the night.

Besides, in the 10 years Gruetzmacher has been doing this, Seattle police have never told him he couldn't.

By Sunday morning, others in the group begin to arrive, about nine or 10 families in all, who along with perhaps thousands of other spectators forgo the $30 entry fee and enjoy Seafair from outside the gates.

From their position on the lake, Gruetzmacher and his friends can catch all the action, without the crowds or the cost.

"This has evolved from a bunch of crazy young adults getting together having fun to families spending time together and having fun," Gruetzmacher said.

Many others who watch Seafair pay to get in. About 150,000 people were expected at Seafair throughout the weekend, said Seafair spokeswoman Melissa Jurcan.

On Sunday, tens of thousands lined the banks of Lake Washington. Hundreds more watched from the decks of boats tied up along a log boom and many watched from in the water, though they were shooed out each time the boat races got under way.

About 10 people were treated by Seattle Fire Department medics for heat-related illnesses during Sunday's races, according to spokesman Kyle Moore.

In neighborhoods along the lake, residents climbed onto upper decks or set up lawn chairs to soak in the celebration. Neighborhood residents got free passes to the event, including pit access.

Seafair is entirely fenced in, with two main entrances — a north gate near Mount Baker beach and a south gate near 49th Avenue South.

Entry cost $30 for adults ($25 in advance) and $10 for children and seniors, with a $10 fee for a pit pass. Parking at Genesee Park was also $30.

Some who watched from outside the gates say those costs can be too much. Besides, they don't believe they are missing anything by not going in.

Sean Knight, who lives in West Seattle, arrived around 7 a.m., grabbed a spot just south of the south entrance, laid tarps on the ground and set up a large umbrella for shade. He then went back to sleep while his partner, Darlene Hall, grilled hot dogs and bratwurst.

The couple have been coming to Seafair since they moved here from Chicago nine years ago. Over the years, Knight and others say, the south entrance has been drifting farther south, cutting off viewing spots

A few year years ago, Knight considered paying to get in, but found the costs to be a deal-breaker. He enjoys the Blue Angels and can see them just fine from his spot. "From what I can see, the only benefit to going inside is the beer," he said, referring to beer gardens inside the gates.

Just a few blocks south, Gruetzmacher's Seafair posse was already partying.

Gruetzmacher, who lives in Kent, remembers enjoying Seafair from the Mercer Island side of the lake when he was younger, when he and his friends would launch rafts out into the lake.

Nine years ago, they began setting up tents along the lake, just north of Seward Park, on the Saturday night of Seafair weekend.

The idea caught on and they invited more friends. Now they have an official mailing that goes to about 20 families; friends come from across the country to join the party.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464- 2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com.

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