North Cascades Festival Celebrates Community, Heritage

The town of Concrete, Washington, celebrated Cascade Days last month. This festival, held each year on the third weekend in August, was established in 1934 to promote the construction of a highway that would pass through the North Cascades, linking northern sections of western and eastern Washington. The road opened in 1972, and the festival has continued since then.

The festival celebrates the traditions and community spirit of this small town. Named for the concrete plants which opened there in 1905, its economy shifted after the closure of the last plant in 1973. Two dams on the Baker River, opened in 1925 and 1959, create reservoirs, supplied by glacier meltwater and snowmelt from nearby Mount Baker, which provide hydropower and generate a number of jobs in the town.

The town has a long history of logging as well. Though timber production in the area is well below the levels of the mid-twentieth century, it still provides some employment and is a major focus of the town’s identity, strongly in view at Cascade Days.

The festival opened late in the morning on Main Street with a few short speeches. This was followed by the singing of the national anthem. The young woman who sang was the great-great-granddaughter of the couple that established Cascade Supply, the hardware store in town that is still in operation.

Man in pirate costume in the parade (source: Cascade Days).

A parade followed, with floats from local schools, clubs, organizations and churches, along with one man dressed as a pirate, and another, a self-described peace wizard, clad largely in purple. Immediately after the parade came the car show, with vintage cars, trucks, fire engines and tractors proceeding slowly down Main Street.

The first event in the afternoon was the Firemen’s Muster, a competition between four volunteer fire departments from Concrete and nearby towns. They competed in three events: assembling hoses that were connected to a fire truck, hauling hoses up a slope, and using streams of water from hoses to push a target suspended on a cable. These firefighters protect houses in town and out in rural areas, and are the first responders for fires in the Mount Baker Ranger District in the nearby national forest.

The second afternoon event had a more explicit connection to the forests on Mount Baker and across the region. The log show included an axe throw and time trials for attaching choker cables to logs.

The log show also included a time trial for using a two-man crosscut saw, and a variety of competitions with chain saws, with the largest and loudest chain saws saved for the end. This event drew participants from timber sports enthusiasts across northwest Washington.

The last event of the first day of the festival was the duck race. Participants purchased rubber ducks, which were numbered and placed in the water in a large tank truck, known locally as the fish taxi because it is used to transport juvenile salmon around the dams. The fish taxi was parked at the top of a hill on Main Street. It released the water slowly. People cheered as the ducks were carried down the hill. Prizes were given to the first three ducks to complete the course.

Watermelon eating contest at Cascade Days, 19 August 2018 (source: Cascade Days).

The second day had several events as well: a pet costume show, a pie and watermelon eating contest, and a jam contest, with preserves made from locally harvested berries.

Paralleling the official events of the festival were more informal gatherings in homes, restaurants and bars. A number of local families held barbecues for people who visited from out of town. Several graduating classes of Concrete High School held their reunions to coincide with the festival as well.

The festival served as a fundraiser for local organizations and promoted Concrete as a tourist destination. It drew attention to other festivals, including Mardi Gras, an Eagle Festival, and a Ghost Walk, where local residents stand in costume at locations along Main Street and elsewhere downtown, sharing stories and legends of the town’s colorful history.

And above all, Cascade Days accomplished in 2018 a purpose that it has accomplished every year: maintaining ties between former and current residents, and connecting both groups with the town’s heritage as a mountain town and logging center.




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