Valleyfest launched a new era under a vast expanse of blue sky and a backdrop of tall pines on Mirabeau Meadows Park on Saturday.
Although the location changed from past years, fans of the 15-year-old festival say it retained its charm.
“I think it’s like a small-town atmosphere,” said Kathy Woollett.
Woollett has attended nearly every festival, bringing her children and now her grandchildren.
As always, some of the event’s biggest fans are kids, including Woollett’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Kayla Blackwood, who gave the paper-bag art and jumping castle high marks.
When last year’s festival attracted 22,000 people, organizers moved it from Terrace View Park to the 10-acre Mirabeau Meadows. Some lamented the loss of curb-side parking but said the inconvenience was worth it. Shuttle buses brought participants from the Spokane Valley Mall and other designated parking areas.
“Once we got here, things were great and it’s a beautiful park,” said Marci Holguin. “I just think it’s wonderful to have all this for the kids.”
The day started with a Dr. Suess-themed parade from University City Mall to Valley Mission Park.
At the park, hairy-legged men in kilts played melancholy tunes reflecting their Scottish heritage as children shot hoops, rode ponies and played games for candy.
Martha Bayle and her teenage daughters, Alannah and Madolyn Bayle, sponsored a Fear Factor booth featuring physical challenges and disgusting foods.
Judah LaRue, 14, took the walking-on-stilts challenge and made it about six inches before sliding off.
“I did better than I thought I would do, I’ll tell you that,” LaRue said.
Six lucky finalists were timed as they choked down some exceptionally ripe cucumbers.
“They’ve been sitting in vinegar for about a month. They taste terrible and they make your mouth pucker,” Madolyn Bayle said.
One young contestant gagged, exclaiming, “That’s way too sour!”
But truly vile stuff was reserved for afternoon contestants who fished trinkets from a mailbox filled with smelly, slimy garbage and ate lime Jell-O seasoned with chunks of garlic.
Cody Jacobs used his feet to fish eight marbles from a bucket of ice water, a talent he attributed to being born into a long-toed family.
Around the corner, a group of military spouses gathered support for Toys for Tots because most of the volunteers who run the program are deployed to Iraq.
With the majority of the 138 reservists from U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Battery 514 serving overseas, their wives have pledged to do whatever it takes to carry on the Marine tradition of collecting and distributing toys to low-income children. They are being helped by Marine veterans and a Marine youth group.
Last year, the program provided Christmas gifts to 8,000 children locally and they expect this year’s list of deserving recipients to be even longer.
Normally, the Marines and their spouses work together to assemble lists of needy children and to collect, sort and distribute the toys.
“As a military wife you have to step up. When they are gone you play all those roles,” explained Gerri Bowman, wife of Staff Sgt. Joseph Bowman.
Jennifer Robertson, whose husband Sgt. Jeremy Robertson is deployed, said their goal is to meet or exceed the number of toys collected last year.
“Our husbands would want this. This is what we need to do.”