A robust crowd was on hand to celebrate our nation’s birthday at the 2019 Pioneer Days Grand Parade in Cle Elum Saturday.

The parade lasted over an hour, with many on hand saying it was the longest they had ever seen. Local law enforcement, rodeo posses and royalty, businesses and organizations took place in the parade down First Street. A highlight of the event was the attendance of multiple Pioneer Days queens from past years, parading in vintage automobiles.

The parade was part of the larger Pioneer Days festival held over the weekend, that included a fireworks show on Thursday, live music and performances, a fireman’s pioneer breakfast, a horseshoe competition, bocce and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

2019’s Pioneer Queen Donna Willette was the unofficial Grand Marshal of the parade, being christened on June 29. The event has christened a queen every year since 1969, and Willette said it was a special experience for her to be able to represent the community in this year’s event. She also agreed it was one of the longer parades she has seen over the years.

“It was fabulous,” she said. “It was wonderful. I thought it was about twice as long as it was going to be.”

Willette has been attending for approximately 30 years and remembers the events humble roots as a logging festival. She said the crowd for this year’s festival was memorably large.

“Everyone’s here, I think,” she said. “Everyone from the local towns. They must be, I don’t know where they all came from!”

As she greeted people stopping by to congratulate her for being this year’s Pioneer Queen, Willette said the event is ingrained in the fabric of the Upper County because of its ability to serve as a gathering place, even if for only one weekend out of the year.

“I think it’s one of the most important events of the year because it gets everybody out and everybody together,” she said. “That’s what I think binds the community together is when people get to know each other. They’re not just names, but they get to see them. Sometimes you haven’t seen this person for two or three years, or you get to meet somebody new. I just think it’s important for those reasons.”

Willette said the importance of Pioneer Days within Upper County is poised to stay strong for years, and in doing so will help retain the values and traditions of the communities it celebrates, even as the population swells within the area.

“We are growing,” she said. “But something like this keeps you from growing too fast, I think.”

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