Priest Lake’s 30th annual Spring Festival welcomed a bigger crowd Saturday than in years past, but with the same remote charm North Idaho lake connoisseurs have enjoyed for decades.
“You just see so many people that you recognize from Spokane, Idaho …” said Ron Morris, of Spokane.
Sheriff’s officials estimate about 22,000 campers, boaters, anglers and onlookers will visit Priest Lake and its surrounding communities over the Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s just kind of a good, family place,” Morris said.
Many of those families crowded the streets of Coolin on Saturday for the annual parade. The quick but enthusiastic procession of 37 entrants included decorated golf carts and ATVs, a logging truck loaded high with timber, and Huckleberry Queen Jeanie Melvin, given the title for her volunteer efforts in the local grade school.
The winner of the best theme award went to the two trailers bearing camping scenes from Soldier Creek, complete with tents and fire pits, based on an idea by Colten Garske, 11, and his brother Branson, 7.
“We have a creek right next to our cabin,” said Colten.
Their cousins Hanna Chaffin, 12, and her brother Tanner Chaffin, 15, along with a large group of friends, helped put them together.
Their cabins sit on land where their mom, Kim Chaffin, said her great-grandfather used horses to haul logs for the original building 50 years ago.
“That’s all these kids know. They’ve been coming up since they were a week old, most of them,” she said.
The Coolin Civic Organization organizes the festivities, including more than 60 booths for craft vendors from around the region.
“There are only about 100 of us up here in the wintertime, but it grows in the summer,” said organization President Janet Langley.
An auction later Saturday was scheduled to raise money for People Helping People, which recently donated $15,000 to build a playground in a new park in Coolin that will be dedicated on the Fourth of July.
For younger kids in the area, Langley said, “It’s hard to find a sandbox if you don’t own a beachfront.”
As for the grownups, she said that even though people visit Priest Lake in droves, the limited development along the shoreline and the large proportion of public land surrounding the lake help keep it pristine.
“It’s not so busy, I think that’s the main thing,” Langley said.
In the 25 years or so since he came to his first Memorial Day parade in Coolin, Morris said he’s seen the lake grow in popularity.
But standing in the sunshine after the parade, he happily gestured to the royal blue water behind him, where only a few boats were out on one of the lake’s busiest weekends.
“Look at the water: There’s nobody out there,” he said.