Michael McCormic, Jr.
WOODLAND — The oldest community festival in Washington saw massive attendance this weekend as Woodland celebrated its history. For the people involved in the festivities, the 2017 Planters Days is just as much about the residents as it is about remembering their heritage.
Beginning on Thu., June 15 and running through Sun., June 18, Planters Days is a weekend-long celebration, the busiest day being Saturday. As the festival’s 95th year in operation, residents already knew what to look for. Among the most popular events were the Saturday morning parade, the Firemen’s Barbecue, the 50th Annual Frog Jumping Contest, and the Military Vehicles Collectors Show. All weekend long, a carnival complete with a ferris wheel and cotton candy peddlers attracted families from around Clark and Cowlitz counties.
Saturday festivities began at 6:00 AM with the Boy Scouts’ take out breakfast. At 8:00, the parade began to form, and at 11:00, the floats cruised down Davidson Avenue as thousands of spectators lined the streets. Community organizations, public servicemen, churches, businesses and local politicians alike came to show their pride in the Woodland communities.
At noon, a substantial line had already formed for the Firemen’s Barbecue, which takes place in Horseshoe Lake Park. As is tradition, the city of Woodland’s provider of fire and rescue services, currently Clark County Fire and Rescue, serves up BBQ sandwiches at the Planters Days celebration, as they have for over 60 years. This year, 14 quarters of beef were wrapped in tin foil and pit-barbecued overnight.
Fire Chief John Nohr explains some of the tradition that comes with the job, saying, “Woodland firefighters have been doing this since the mid 1950s. There’s actually a pit in the ground here that was built just for them and is only used during Planters Days.”
Proceeds from the barbecue go to the Firefighters’ Association, a nonprofit fund used both for charitable donations and purchasing new equipment for the fire department.
On the lawn adjacent to the barbecue, the 50th Annual Frog Jumping Contest took place at 1:30 p.m.. Founded in 1968 by Walter Hansen, Sr., the frog jump is a local favorite among Woodland residents, some of whom are fourth generation participants in the competition. Hansen, Sr., who passed away in February of 2016, handed the torch off to his son, Walter Hansen, Jr. The competition is held at Horseshoe Lake Park, a place that is very special to the Hansen family.
“This park has a large history of our family, “ Hansen, Jr. explains. “My parents met here in the 1953 Planters Days and two months later they were married.”
To Hansen, Jr., the competition is all about bringing families together. It is an event in which sons, fathers, and grandfathers have participated since its conception.
“Mostly, it’s the community. We love seeing generation after generation come out and just give a heck of a show. We have third and fourth generations out here; we have grandpas out here that used to jump. It’s pretty amazing,” says Hansen, Jr.
As dozens of families look on, children bring the wild frogs they have caught to the “launchpad,” from which the first three jumps are measured. In addition to longest jump, awards are presented for largest, smallest, prettiest, and ugliest frogs.
With the cheering from the Frog Jump crowd, it is almost impossible to hear the hum of a very unique engine coming from Horseshoe Lake. But for those who get to experience this strange vehicle first hand, it is an unforgettable experience.
Dennis Ripp, president of the Military Vehicle Collectors Club of Oregon, is a resident of Woodland and long-time participant in the Planters Days parade. For the past few years, he has been bringing his World War II era amphibious vehicle, a Duck called “Miss Gracey.” Ripp and his friends drive their historic military vehicles in the Saturday parade, but the fun for them begins when the crowds meander towards the waterfront, where Ripp’s Army duck and another Marine Corps duck ferried groups of 10 at a time out on the lake for brief demonstrations on the history of the amphibious vehicles.
“We’re trying to get people to understand military vehicle history,” Ripp says.
The two ducks ran nonstop for the rest of the afternoon, ferrying a few hundred passengers and showcasing the unique vehicles to those looking on from the banks.
The Planters Days festival closed on Sunday, after four days of fun and community celebration. In it’s 95th year, it should be no surprise that attendance reached well into the thousands. After all, they have had plenty of time to figure out what attracts a crowd.