Our town was written up in the Seattle Times!
The Census Bureau says this tiny town, named for a famous (but since departed) dairy, has 1,786 residents, which means one thing is certain: The census takers didn't visit on the Fourth of July. On Independence Day, it's not unusual to see 10,000 people or more — depending on the weather — swarm into Carnation from points across King and Snohomish counties.
They come to munch strawberry shortcake at the Sno-Valley Senior Center. To down stacks of pancakes at Tolt Congregational Church. Young ones come to ride ponies and bouncy toys. Older ones come to admire muscle cars, motorcycles or vintage tractors.
They come for the 5K run, or the "Just Moo It" 3-on-3 basketball tournament added last year, or to see a free theater performance or listen to a free concert. And they end their day watching fireworks near the Snoqualmie River.
How can a town this small pull off such a big-time party?
"Everybody gets involved," said Kate Miller, program coordinator at the senior center. "Every church is doing something, every community group, every business. It's the one event in Carnation that gets everybody on board."
"The Great Carnation 4th of July Celebration," a $32,000 event funded by sponsors and donors, can't compete in scale with the $500,000 "Family 4th at Lake Union" that lights up the skies above Seattle's Gas Works Park.
But small-town Independence Day observances have their charm. And every community, large, small or medium-size, endeavors to put its stamp on the holiday: Edmonds, among other offerings, has firefighter teams competing to jet-spray a ball along an overhead cable. Federal Way has a hot-dog-eating contest and three-legged races. Anacortes invites residents and visitors to assemble on the main drag for a group portrait. Carnation's event "is just an old-fashioned, family-oriented, hometown celebration," said Kim Lisk, who for the past half-dozen years has chaired the nonprofit organizing the event.
When Lisk says "family oriented," she means it. Her three children, 14 to 23, have done everything from scooping horse poop to registering event participants. Her husband, Stuart, is one of three announcers at the parade. Carnation, about an hour east of Seattle, sits at the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers on land ceded to the United States by the Snoqualmie Tribe in 1855."
Incorporated initially as Tolt, the town later adopted the name of the dairy that had become famous for milk from "contented cows." The dairy and brand name were sold to Nestlé in 1985. The farm site, since purchased by a foundation created by heirs of the dairy's founder, is leased to Camp Korey, which provides outdoor recreation for children with serious illnesses.
The Snoqualmie Tribe, part of Carnation's Fourth of July for decades, is represented in the parade by a contingent from the "Canoe Family," a youth-mentoring program. In tribal regalia, the group will accompany a 30-foot ocean-going, cedar-strip canoe built by master carver John Mullen and a crew from the Snoqualmie Tribe. Precision-stepping dancing horses — a couple of dozen or more near the end of the parade — are a particular crowd-pleaser, sponsored by the Ixtapa restaurant chain.
This year, there's a bittersweet note to the "Hot Rods & Harleys" display of cars, motorcycles and 4x4s: It's sponsored by the town's century-old watering hole, Pete's Club Grill, whose owner, Don Lovett, died of cancer in April.
In the throngs drawn to Carnation for the Fourth, residents see many familiar faces.
"A lot of people who grew up here and moved away come back for the Fourth of July," said Delores Ulrich, a volunteer at the senior center. "It's like a reunion."
Ulrich will be in high gear by 7 a.m. Monday, heading a crew mixing and baking 400 servings of shortcake, to be topped by berries donated by Remlinger Farms, a Carnation fixture. Here's a tip: Although the schedule says the $5 shortcake is served at the senior center (on Stephens Avenue) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., it usually is long gone well before 2, so get there early.
Asking when work starts on Carnation's Fourth of July celebration is like asking when the Snoqualmie begins flowing. It never really stops. No sooner is one event in the books than Lisk is compiling notes on how to make the next one bigger and better.
The pace of planning picks up each January, right after another signature local event.
These days, Carnation's Fourth of July party is too big for a single day. Last year, a family-oriented street dance was added the evening of July 3, after the senior center's spaghetti dinner. This year, the night-before festivities included a "cowpie-eating contest" (think gooey chocolate-chip cookie) sponsored by Lazy K's Pizza and Pasta, where Lisk is a waitress and bartender.
JOEL HAWKSLEY / THE SEATTLE TIMES
On the Fourth, early-day activities center on Carnation's downtown area, then shift to Tolt-MacDonald park, where a beer garden operated by owners of the Carnation Golf Course opens at 2 p.m. and live entertainment starts at 4 p.m. Fireworks begin about 10 p.m.
Coordinating the work of some 60 Fourth of July committee volunteers — which doesn't include dozens more working with specific event sponsors — is a key responsibility of Collienne Becker, who says she never will forget her first "Fourth" in Carnation. It was 1987, shortly after she moved to Seattle from Spokane. When her new boss heard she didn't have any Fourth of July plans, he invited Becker and her boyfriend (now her husband) to Carnation for the day.
"We sat on the curb, just enjoying the small-town feel — the tractors, the horses, the drill teams. And we both said, 'We're going to live out here some day.' "
It took 17 years, but the Beckers now have a home and 15 acres in the Carnation area and a B&B, Casa Vermillion. Collienne Becker is current president of Carnation's chamber of commerce, but still has a four-day-a-week job as a senior purchasing assistant at Amazon.com in Seattle. Carnation's six-block, 11 a.m. grand parade travels a closed stretch of Highway 203 (Tolt Avenue). Near the front, convertibles will carry Mayor Lee Grumman and the rest of the City Council.
In front of them will be this year's grand marshal, Bob Gilbertson, a recently retired 30-year Carnation public-works employee. Gilbertson, 60, says he knows a lot more about helping set up a parade than being in one. "My wife is telling me, 'Get your wave down.' " he said. "So I'm working on that."