The longest-running community festival in Washington mixes classic, community favorite events with some new faces in leadership
Michael McCormic, Jr.
WOODLAND — Community festival season has officially begun, and what better way to kick it off here in Southwest Washington than with the 97th annual Woodland Planters Days? As the longest-running community celebration in the state of Washington, Planters Days has proven year after year that small-town festivities do not always have to be small.
Beginning on Thu., June 13 and running through Sun., June 16, this four-day long celebration of Woodland’s vibrant agricultural heritage drew thousands of visitors from neighboring communities and even out of state. Saturday — often the most anticipated day of the festival for those willing to brave the crowds — kicked off early in the morning with a breakfast feed at 7 a.m. and ran until 11 p.m., with plenty of crowd favorite events in between.
Perhaps the most well-attended event all weekend was the Planters Days Parade on Saturday morning, where spectators were lining up over an hour in advance to get a memorable view of the procession. Oregon resident Vikki (who preferred not to share her last name) has been bringing her two grandsons, Gavin and Malcom, to Planters Days for the past couple years.
In between lunges to grab handfuls of sweets thrown from passing parade floats, Malcom told ClarkCountyToday.com that his favorite thing about the parade was “candy,” while Vikki explained to us that she is thankful for the opportunity the festival provides her to spend time with her family in a friendly environment.
“I love people; I just love being around the people,” Vikki said, going on to say, “I like coming here and spending time with my grandkids, watching trucks and all the good stuff while we’re here.”
Dale and Marcia Keck may not have been diving into the street to get their fill of sugar for the day, but they did both seem to be enjoying the parade from their seats on Davidson Avenue. Both members of the Moose Lodge fraternal organization, the Kecks have been coming to Planters Days for nearly 25 years.
Dale Keck says his favorite thing about Planters Days is “seeing all the people come out, the participation, and the people in the parade.” He also notes that “every year, its gets better.”
As the parade made its way through Downtown Woodland, brothers Victor Armas and Jake Sams took the opportunity to chat with ClarkCountyToday.cpm. While these two youngsters admittedly enjoyed the carnival rides and getting to see their friends at Planters Days, they both know that this festival means something even more special to the community.
Armas says that what makes Planters Days special for him is “how It’s been around for a long time, and how everybody gets together to greet people,” while Sams explains that his favorite part is “to see past generations in the fair.”
As spectators watched the parade pass by, many may have detected the smell of the notorious Woodland barbecue pit wafting up from the waterfront, where 974 pounds of beef had been slow-cooking overnight. The annual Firemen’s Bar-B-Cue, hosted by Clark County Fire & Rescue, has become known for its $5 barbecue beef sandwiches for which area residents and out-of-town visitors alike are willing to wait in line to support a good cause.
Captain Josh Brooks, one of the many volunteers helping man the barbecue operation, explains, “It’s a fundraiser for our firefighter’s association — we take the money that we make here and put it back into the community for a lot of different events and a lot of different things that we do for outreach for people in our area who we serve.”
Elsewhere in Horseshoe Lake Park, families gathered around the gazebo patiently awaited the commencement of the 52nd Annual Frog Jump, which has been a generational tradition for dozens of area families. Tyler Kofstad, a long-time Frog Jump contestant, brought along his son, Lane (5), nieces Maxine (6) and Ruby Ripp (8), and a bucket full of wild frogs to participate in the competition.
“It’s a tradition that’s been going on forever. There’s a lot of familiar faces; we were all Lane’s age when we started so now we’re doing it for our generation of kids,” Kofstad explains. “It’s just kind of fun for parents and kids to go out and do frogging once a year, then we go release them when we’re all done.”
If festival-goers thought this year’s Planters Days might have seemed a little different than the last few iterations, it is likely due to the new Planters Days President Jennifer Wray-Keene. With 2019 being her first year at the helm of the community celebration, Wray-Keene hopes to keep Planters Days the same small-town experience it has always been, albeit with some exciting new twists. While the Planters Days Passport Program and an interactive presence from the Lelooska Foundation are both new this year, Wray-Keene is especially proud of the new pet parade that was added to the event lineup.
“We had a pet parade this year; it was our first one ever, and we had three categories. We had prizes for twins, superhero, and pet of the year,” Wray-Keene explains. “We had forty entries and all of that money went to the Cowlitz County Humane Society.”
As a pet adopter herself, raising money for the Humane Society is a cause that is especially close to Wray-Keene’s heart, and one she hopes to bring back in the future as she continues to lead the charge to keep Planters Days a fresh and exciting community experience for generations to come.