By Sarah Jackson
Special to Sierra News Online
OAKHURST — The importance of volunteerism and preservation of local history were the themes of the 2019 Mountain Heritage Days Parade — which took place Saturday morning in Oakhurst.
The annual parade, which benefits the Fresno Flats Historic Park, is a celebration of the mountain community and its rich history.
Beginning and ending at Fresno Flats, the parade led its participants to other Heritage Days events in the afternoon, including carnival games for kids, booths displaying wares from local vendors, docent tours, and music from Kamanawannaplaya, the Ukulele Club of Oakhurst.
Visitors also enjoyed a silent auction, a beard contest and food from Sal’s Taco Truck.
Demonstrations in wood carving, weaving, gold panning, blacksmithing and printing gave attendees a glimpse into the history of our mountain community.
Saturday evening, local Chef Brian Velasquez of REV’s Farmhouse prepared the Chuck Wagon Dinner.
Brenda Negley, the 2019 Heritage Parade coordinator, also volunteers at Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park.
“Fresno Flats is this great little place in Oakhurst people don’t know about,” she said. “It’s a great place for a picnic, and it’s all free!”
Fresno Flats is run by volunteers. “The funds raised today will see us through the rest of the year,” Negley said.
Negley was particularly touched by the generosity of Arbor Works. “They purchased over 200 traffic cones for the parade. Their employees placed them all before the parade and picked up after. They saw the need and boy did they ever meet it!”
Supervisor Tom Wheeler spent the afternoon at the event after the parade.
“It’s so important to support this event and Fresno Flats,” Wheeler said. “Our area really is a big draw for tourism. On average, visitors spend three to five days here, and just one of those days is spent in Yosemite. We really should be promoting everything we can for visitors.”
One idea highlighted by Supervisor Wheeler for making Fresno Flats more profitable — and increasing the tourism at the historic park — is to open the Laramore-Lyman House as an Airbnb.
“Of course we’d have to make sure items within the house are safe, but what a great draw that would be,” Wheeler said.
Sierra Tel is the parade’s main sponsor. Their grant of $500 to the parade and $500 to the Heritage Days events funded much of Saturday’s festivities.
Sierra Telephone also generously loaned the pop-up tents, tables, chairs, speakers and cords for the judges’ booth.
“[Sierra Tel has] done this for twenty years,” Negley said. “They really make so many things possible.”
And for the 19th year, Madera Sheriffs Citizens on Patrol also helped in coordinating the parade. The all-volunteer group donated more than 11,000 hours of service to the county last year.
On Saturday, the parade judges, all volunteers, rated entrants in the areas of creativity, visual appeal and performance. Each area received a score of one, two or three. The aggregate scores were added up and some of the results included:
The parade’s Grand Marshall and winner of the Youth Float category was the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst.
Best of Show went to the Yosemite High School Marching Band, who also won First Place in the Marching Band Youth category.
Yosemite High School Cheer took home the Spirit Award.
Steve’s Pet Shop and Corner Feed won First Place in the Commercial Float category.
First Place in the Adult Group Float category was won by the Mountain Area Conservative Forum.
Kat Biacindo (who also volunteers at Fresno Flats Historic Park) won the Individual Marching Unit award for her entry as a Cherokee dancer and drummer.
Daughters of the American Revolution, Oakhurst Chapter won Historical Service Organization category.
The Community Service Organization award went to the Soroptomist Club of Oakhurst.
Kamanawannaplaya, the Ukulele Club of Oakhurst, won Marching Band Adult.
First Place in the Gymnastics category was won by Gymnastics By Dianne.
A 1976 Plymouth Scamp owned and driven by Joyce and Mike Decker won the Individual Vehicle award .
Elks Club took home First Place in the Mascot category.
Supervisor Tom Wheeler won the Political Vehicle award with his 1930 Chevy four door sedan.
Behind the Grand Marshal was the Fresno Flats Volunteer of the Year, Laurie Thiessen. She and her three children, Rebekah, Bryce, and Ginny have been volunteering at Fresno Flats for five years. They clean, lead tours, care for the grounds, and even restored the buckboard wagon. This generous family has also built the games for the Heritage Days event and organized the “Country Dance,” a new tradition beginning this year.