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Battle Ground die-hards roll with changes to build city’s Rose Festival float

BATTLE GROUND — This city’s effort to dominate the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade through charm, poise and sheer small-town scrappiness just keeps floating along. You can admire the results June 8, as Battle Ground’s 65th annual contribution to the parade takes downtown Portland by (mini) storm.

Battle Ground’s handmade float is once again a minifloat. It’s been built entirely by volunteers — “12 ladies plus a handful of guys who drop by” to contribute skills like welding, according to volunteer Marla Polos.

None of that is very different from the float-building scene of the last few years, which has shrunk but maintains its momentum; what is different this year is where those ladies are working and where those guys are dropping by to help: inside Mark Van Vleet’s garage a few miles north of Battle Ground.

Van Vleet is a veteran of the parade-float business, he said; before he moved up here four years ago, he lived in California and helped build floats for events like San Francisco’s annual Mardi Gras-style “New Orleans by the Bay” parades. He’s happy to let Battle Ground’s all-volunteer effort borrow his garage, he said — since the city last year ended a long-term lease allowing the Rose Float folks and their project to occupy the city’s Flex Building, a Public Works garage, for part of every year. The city cited its own growth and the need to store trucks and equipment indoors.

Volunteers grudgingly accepted all that, and they’re grateful to Van Vleet for his offer of free space, but being hidden in the woods north of town, at the end of a skinny dead-end road, has not helped with visibility or volunteers, Polos said. She and her fellow volunteers are hoping the city will find a new spot for them.

“We want to keep the small town spirit going. But when you’re way out in the country like this, people don’t see us,” Polos said.

Salad on wheels

That’s why, a couple of Fridays ago, Polos and her peers met a busload of Portland Rose Festival princesses at a more central church parking lot, and led them the rest of the way through the woods to Van Vleet’s place. They were on a mission to meet and greet with Battle Ground’s own four Rose Festival princesses; all admired the float-in-progress before moving on to make speeches, exchange gifts and enjoy a catered lunch.

The float was still a work in progress, but it still looked good enough to eat — because it’s a summer salad on wheels. Designed to serve as a symbol of Battle Ground for both the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade and Battle Ground’s own July 20 Harvest Days festival and car cruise-in, it’s a rolling smorgasbord of virtual vegetables and faux fruits — all made of natural materials, as per the parade rules. Seasoned volunteers of previous float efforts already knew that dried, colored split peas are an excellent and durable all-purpose stand-in for all sorts of veggie textures and looks, from rough gourds to cobs of corn to carrot sticks; when The Columbian visited, the float also featured creative and colorful watermelon slices, zucchinis, tomatoes and more earthy goodies — along with one little bee, the ongoing mascot of this busy, self-motivated group.

The final ingredient will be an outer coating of fresh flowers, which haven’t been affixed yet; when The Columbian visited they were still cooling their stems in a refrigerated trailer, which was donated to the effort by Safeway.

Princess party

Meanwhile, Portland and Battle Ground princesses were mingling and celebrating court life on Van Vleet’s lawn and side patio. The princess program is all about young women making their voices heard and “empowering and inspiring our youth today,” said Battle Ground princess Kianne Bell.

“A lot of public speaking, a lot of public speaking skills,” said Battle Ground princess Isabelle Carter. “That has been a wonderful opportunity.”

“Hanging out with the coolest people” has been the central thing for Battle Ground princess Magaidh Merle, she said.

Carter told the crowd about the history of the Rose Festival float, which began in 1955 with an effort to show off new marching band uniforms — but to be in the parade, Carter said, the group needed an actual float. Thus began a town tradition that’s been unbroken for 65 years.

Because the group has rebuilt, redecorated and repurposed the same float chassis for years now, Merle said, folks refer to Battle Ground’s parade entry as its “Frankenfloat”; Polos added that the chassis may be nearing the end of its useful life. The Battle Ground Rose Float’s future remains uncertain, Polos said, and volunteers, donations and great new ideas are always welcome.


If You Go

What: Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.
When: 10 a.m. June 8.
Where: Veterans Memorial Coliseum to downtown Portland.
Admission: Free on the streets, or ticketed seating at Veterans Memorial Coliseum starts at $30.

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