A year of firsts, as well as a year of tradition for Ridgefield’s annual festival
Michael McCormic, Jr.
RIDGEFIELD — There is something about Independence Day in Ridgefield that cannot help but make feel attendees proud to be an American. Perhaps it is the roar of the F-16 fighter jets as they fly over the town to announce the start of the annual parade. Maybe it is the smell of the tractors and old car engines that make their way down Pioneer Ave. It might even be the sight of small children covered in marionberry pie from the Pie Eating Contest. In any case, by 11 a.m., not an inch of sidewalk is visible due to the sheer number of parade spectators, a fact that should serve as a clear indicator that on the Fourth of July, Ridgefield is the place to be.
The past year has brought significant changes to the Ridgefield Fourth of July Celebration, and while the town’s community seems to fully embrace the exciting new developments in their backyard, this year’s parade aimed to pay special homage to Ridgefield’s cherished heritage. As such, the theme chosen for the event was “Land of the Free, Home of the Spudders.”
According to Festival Director Sandy Schill, this decision came with the intention of celebrating new developments in the community, while also recognizing the significance that the Ridgefield’s potato farming history continues to play in the town’s development.
“We’ve had a new development in our town with the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, and it’s the building of our 20 acre sports complex,” Schill explains. “Part of that land was donated by some potato farmers here in Ridgefield — the Bartel family. So, we chose them as our Grand Marshals, and we made that our theme. The spuds are very close to us here in Ridgefield.”
Of course, crowd favorites of the parade included the El Rancho Viejo Mexican Restaurant float, with their live band, dancing horses, and colorful costumes, as well as the Natura Pest Control team, which choreographs and performs a new group dance for the parade every year.
And the city of Ridgefield was not the only one celebrating new developments this Independence Day. Our very own Clark County Today staff celebrated a first of its own, as well, when spectators at the Ridgefield Fourth of July Parade witnessed the first ever ClarkCountyToday.com parade entry.
With new sports complexes and parade floats in the midst, it should come as no surprise that many new festival-goers dropped in for some small-town fun, as well. One such newcomer was Josh Taylor, who brought along his son, Lukas, to enjoy the festivities.
“We moved up here last year from Oregon, and we have some parades back home, but nothing like this,” Taylor says. “All the people that come out and the community involvement; absolutely amazing. Go Ridgefield!”
While Lukas could not quite put his finger on his favorite thing about the parade, getting to ride the fire truck was reportedly a big hit.
For other Ridgefield residents, the community’s Fourth of July Festival has long been a shared family experience. This is no different for Darrin and Andrea Young-Byle, whose three sons, Kaegan, Tynan, and Ronan, have grown up attending the festival.
“We like the small town parade and seeing all the tractors, and the trucks, and the folks that we live with,” explains Andrea Young-Byle.
For her son, Kaegan, the Ridgefield Fourth of July Festival has become an opportunity to reflect on growing up and spending time with his younger brothers.
“It’s fun seeing your younger brothers get all the candy. I’m older now; I don’t do that as much, but it’s still fun to see them having fun like that and remembering when I used to do that,” he said.
Following the parade, Ridgefield Refuge Overlook Park came alive with music, vendors, and a “Kids’ Day” carnival area, where the power of a neon wristband granted children access to inflatables, a magic show, and even a reptile zoo.
Wherever can be found a crowd of mesmerised children and the occasional squeamish giggle, so too can be found Brett Wilson, better known as “Mr. Lizard” of Mr. Lizard’s Mobile Zoo. For the past several years, Wilson and his band of scaly critters have been a smash hit among young and old alike. Be it snakes, lizards, or even a tarantula, Wilson takes great pride in showcasing the beauty and intelligence of the animal kingdom, and notes that, often times reptiles undeservingly get a bad rap.
“I think my biggest thing is to assuage fear,” Wilson explains while holding up a black and white tegu lizard. “When I first got into reptiles in the ‘80s, most people were terrified of snakes. Most people like them, now. There’s all kinds of animals that we find creepy and scary, but once you get to know them, they’re really just cute.”
The dozens of children surrounding Wilson’s tent would seem to agree; by the end of his presentation, almost all of the onlookers were lining up to pet their new reptilian friends.
Long-time area residents know that no Ridgefield Fourth of July Celebration is complete without an appearance from Tony Starlight. The renowned musician and entertainer based in Portland is best known for his tribute performances to Neil Diamond, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, and other classic musicians from across all genres and eras.
“It’s such a beautiful community,” Starlight says of the town that has so welcomingly embraced his act year after year. “Everybody comes together; I get to see so many of the same people each year, and then each year I get to meet a lot of new people. Everybody feels so at home; comfortable. You see people walking their dogs, people have their kids, you have people that need to come in wheelchairs. You just got a whole community. What’s special is that it’s really just a cross section of everybody who lives here.”
Starlight’s variety show has long been a favorite among Ridgefield’s festival-goers, and this year was no different, with many audience members stopping the entertainer after his show to thank him for the memories that his music brings back.
In lieu of a fireworks show, the Ridgefield Fourth of July Celebration concluded this all-American holiday with an all-American sport: baseball. Making use of the new Ridgefield Outdoor Recreational Complex, the US Military All Star Team, made up of active-duty servicemen and first responders, played against the Showtime College Prep Baseball Team. You can read more about the US Military All Star Team in this article by Clark County Today’s Paul Valencia.