RIDGEFIELD — Wrangling her young nephews, nieces and grandchildren near a camouflage golf cart parked on the open field at Davis Park, Debbie Davis was enjoying her 30th or so Ridgefield Fourth of July parade.
Davis estimated about 15 family members were among the crowd in the park, facing North Main Avenue. The day has special meaning for Davis; her late husband was in the U.S. Marine Corps, and her dad was in the Navy.
“It’s a celebration of our freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, of being an American,” Davis said.
F-15 Eagle fighter jets from the Oregon Air National Guard flew overhead as kids ran around Davis Park with confetti poppers in hand.
“And that is the best!” she exclaimed over the ripping noise of the planes’ engines.
Thousands of people attended the parade, packing Ridgefield’s Main Avenue and Pioneer Street. More than an hour before the procession of floats, bands and business trucks started, the crowd stretched east to the Church of the Nazarene on Pioneer.
Children played red light, green light on the lawn of the church. A group of youngsters rode scooters decorated with ribbons and little banners of red, white and blue. Joy Kelley, with RDO Equipment Co., handed out miniature flags to people from a large cardboard box.
“It’s our second year doing the parade. We’ll be handing out pre-packaged potato flakes from our float,” said Kelley, who noted the free snack was something the company had done the previous year and was not connected to the parade’s theme.
The parade’s theme this year was Land of the Free, Home of the Spudders. The name is a reference to Ridgefield High School’s mascot and the town’s potato farming history. At the turn of the 20th century, the town was home to numerous such farms.
Serving as parade grand marshal this year was the entire Bartel family, who has owned farmland along Hillhurst Road for more than 100 years, starting with more than 200 acres. They milked cattle and grew strawberries, hay, oats and potatoes. Descendants of the family still live in town, said festival director Sandy Schill.
This year, the event went without its own fireworks show in support of the nearby celebration at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. Instead, the brand new Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex at 3101 S. Hillhurst Road hosted the U.S. Military All-Stars (an independent, nonprofit team of veterans) versus Showtime College Prep.
The Bartels donated part of the land for the sports complex.
“They’ve been an integral part of the community, and many of them have remained in Ridgefield into retirement,” Schill said.
Kristi Crusan, a parade committee member in charge of media and advertising, was excited to expound on the small town attraction and the Main Street Program, a nonprofit group that works to preserve the cultural heritage of downtown Ridgefield.
“No matter how big we get (as a town), we’re going to work to keep that feeling,” Crusan said, taking a break from pushing a small cart filled with bags of spiced nuts from local business NW Nut.
Julia Crusan, wearing her Ridgefield All-Stars baseball jersey, said she most enjoys seeing all of the local businesses celebrate their hometown pride and the vendor booths.
“Oh, and I really like the pie-eating contest,” she said.
Many residents of nearby Clark County communities make the drive to Ridgefield to enjoy the festivities.
Battle Ground’s Megan Miller watched her daughter toss a disc in the street. It was the third time they’d made the commute to watch the parade, she said.
“We love it — all the people, the happiness,” Miller said, adding that 4-year-old MadisonLynn likes walking in the kids parade.
The event has grown, but Schill said there are no plans to expand its footprint, despite Ridgefield’s booming development. In the last two years, Ridgefield has added 8 miles of new roads, 16 miles of sidewalk and 4.4 miles of water lines. The fastest-growing city in the state now has a nearby casino and its first collegiate wood-bat baseball team since 2007.
“People who’ve lived here and those who have moved here like the feeling of community it has,” Schill said. “Of course, people from outside of the community come here (on July 4), and they do so for that feeling. To quote a local, ‘They’re coming here to visit a living, active museum.’ We have our history, and it’s alive.”