Despite leadership changes and the speculation of many skeptics, Battle Ground’s annual festival is alive and well
BATTLE GROUND — The Harvest Days are back, and it would appear that this time, they are back for good. After administrative changes last year resulted in some significant changes to the scope and scale of the long-running community festival, many Battle Ground residents wondered if the annual celebration might be on its way out. But this year, with a new, citizen-led organization at the helm, seems to be returning to its former glory.
Kendra Laratta currently serves as a committee member with the Battle Ground Festival Association (BGFA), an organization formed in the wake of the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce’s merger with the Greater Vancouver Chamber of commerce.
“That left an empty spot for these types of activities, so a new group was formed just from people in the community,” Laratta explains, noting that what makes this year’s Harvest Days especially impressive is that, without the Chamber of Commerce to organize the event, the community has stepped up to make sure it lives on.
And live on, it has. Although last year’s festivities were cut a day shorter than usual, this year the Harvest Days were back to a full three-day, weekend long celebration, beginning on Fri., July 19, and ending on Sun., July 21.
Kicking off the weekend with a trove of classic cars and trucks was the “Cruzz-In,” which stood in the place of the Harvest Nights Car Cruise after the latter was cancelled by the organizers. When the BGFA caught wind that a few cruise regulars were planning to hold their own unofficial cruise in, the committee decided it would be best to put on their own version for the sake of safety.
“We saw a lot of response that people were going to come and cruise anyway, and thought maybe we would be better off being proactive rather than waiting for the chaos to come,” Laratta says. “And judging by how many people are out here, it’s probably a good thing we did that.”
With hundreds of classic trucks, sports cars, muscle cars, and hot rods on the Main Street strip, it would be safe to say that the additional effort to make the event official paid off for the community.
Aaron Knisley, who brought his 1972 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS to the cruise for the second time, explains that he comes to this event because, “It’s a good time. You meet really cool people.”
Spectators at the cruise may have noticed a 1929 Ford Model A, which former middle school teacher and classic car enthusiast John Earnest bought and restored as a hobby project.
“It came to us, and we took it all apart and restored it back to the original, the way Henry Ford sold them. They were called station wagons back then, going from the train station to people’s houses,” Earnest explains.
One restored 1966 Stingray Corvette even made its public debut at the Cruzz-In, after being disassembled, refurbished, and rebuilt by mechanic and car collector Greagg Long, who has spent several months and no small amount of cash to restore the American classic to pristine condition.
“We found this car online, back east in Maine, and had it shipped over here,” Long recalls, going on to explain that many different people had their hands in this restoration. “It’s a collaboration of a lot of people and several shops. Everybody does their own thing, and now here it is today, out for its first trip.”
All in all, Long claims the restoration cost over $150,000.
While the engines sputtered and rubber burned on the asphalt, the familiar sounds of children’s laughter and screams of excitement emanated from the southeast lawn of Battle Ground High School, where a handful of carnival rides and games — which had been absent from last year’s festivities — were in full operation.
“This has gone really well so far this year. It’s great to see everybody here. The carnival’s going on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We were finally able to bring that back, too, which was a labor of love,” Laratta says.
Festivities continued early on Saturday morning, with a pancake feed organized by the firefighters of Clark County Fire District 3 at 7 a.m. The Harvest Days Parade followed at 10 a.m., with businesses, charitable organizations, churches, and school bands represented in the procession entries.
Harvest Days saw some new events this year, one of which was the Firefighter Combat Challenge Competition, in which over 25 firefighters from Battle Ground and the surrounding area participated in an obstacle course comprised of tasks that they regularly encounter in their line of work. These actions range from squirting fire hoses to dragging rescue dummies, and are specifically chosen to give the public a feel for what their firefighters do on a daily basis.
Captain Mel Hall from Fire District 3 explains the process of the competition, stating, “So, you pit one firefighter against the other, and we had firefighters from around Clark County come to participate. They go through this course, and we time it, and so each round, one beats the other, of course, and we keep track of time for the final score.”
While the firefighters ran their obstacle course in front of cheering spectators, a separate obstacle course was set up for children to try their hand at being a firefighter alongside the professionals.
“Hopefully we got some future firefighters out there who are going to kind of like it and learn more about what firefighters do. So it’s an interactive education thing with the community,” says Hall.
Home-grown entertainment was in no short supply either, with a dad joke contest and a lip-sync battle both taking place on the community stage on Saturday.
Courtney Dawson competed in the lip-sync battle with her 6-year-old daughter, Harper. Fully costumed as characters from the franchise, the Dawsons performed the Pokemon Theme Song in a choreographed mother-daughter act.
“We were like, ‘We gotta do it!’” Dawson says. “We thought about what we would do for a minute, and then we decided, she likes Pokemon.”
Beyond their fun stage act, the Dawsons have also been Harvest Days regulars for the past several years, and Courtney Dawson believes this community celebration is something special.
“It’s such a fun event. It’s taking it back down to the small town, trying to get away from the bigger city, bringing it back to your roots, and just coming together and having a good time with our small, big town,” she says.
According to Kendra Laratta, planning for the 2020 Harvest Days begins this August, so community members looking to get involved won’t have to wait long. While the Battle Ground Festival Association is still in their early years of community festival planning, if this year is a sign of things to come, then Battle Ground Harvest Days has a lot to look forward to.