Visitors to Bellingham on Saturday, May 3, may be surprised to see huge, colorful and imaginative beasts strutting down the streets and dancing at Maritime Heritage Park.
They shouldn't worry; it's the annual Procession of the Species.
Joy Monjure, community communications coordinator for Bellingham Public Works Department, was instrumental in bringing the Procession of the Species parade to Bellingham as a special event for Bellingham's centennial celebration a decade ago.
Bellingham's Parks and Recreation Department and the Public Works Department sponsored the parade and fashioned the Procession Community Art Studio, after the Olympia event of the same name that began in 1995.
Carol Oberton has been a primary organizer of the festival the past decade, along with a cadre of community volunteers.
"It was felt that a creative, community-building parade that honored the special environment and natural world would be a reflection of our city's history," says Oberton, who heads Start Here Community Arts, under the umbrella of Allied Arts of Whatcom County, to help with details leading up to the parade.
Amanda Grove, at Bellingham Parks, has kept parade day alive, Oberton says, with the city of Bellingham procuring needed permits and handling day-of logistics.
Oberton estimates the first parade drew about 250 people, with a small audience of onlookers along Holly Street. Now, an estimated 800 join the parade, watch from the sidelines or attend the after-parade party, but, Oberton says, "It is difficult to count from inside large masks and puppets, so an official count has not been done."
Depending on the weather, she says, the streets now are usually full of onlookers, with several rooftops providing "best-seat" viewing.
"This may be one of the most photographed events in town," she says.
It certainly brings out huge smiles and plenty of applause.
"The most famous quote of this event," she says, has been "'well ... next year ... I'm going to be. ...'"
Many spectators follow the parade to the end, filling Maritime Heritage Park to bursting for music by local bands. This year's music will be provided by Big Bad Monkeys, with several energetic youths and adults playing marimbas.
This year's grand parade marshal is the Monkey Puzzle Orchestra.
Oberton advises onlookers to arrive early enough to watch people get into their costumes between Bellingham Public Library and City Hall at 3:30 p.m.
Oberton says her favorite big puppet was Moby Jr, a 30-foot sperm whale mounted on an adult tricycle with one driver.
"One year, a couple of young men had a two-person earthworm costume," she recalls. "They had themselves fixed to skateboards, which spun out of control at the bottom of Holly Street and ripped the earthworm in half, all grins about how the robin was supposed to be their braking system and she was late to the parade!"
And, she says, the "Big Owl Hootie" puppet has been roosting all winter at Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Family Interactive Gallery, after her summers at the breezeway of Chuckanut Brewery, where apparently she is often photographed with tourists.
This year, Oberton says, there was a costume- and mask-making workshop at Ragfinery, a recently opened recycled textile business on North Forest Street. It's a great place for a workshop, with lots of materials and resources available, she says.
Oberton says organizers need about 15 volunteers on parade day to help with traffic control for two hours. Interested people should call Amanda Grove or Taylor Arnes at 360-778-7000.
BELLINGHAM PROCESSION OF THE SPECIES
Lineup begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, by City Hall, 210 Lottie St. The parade begins at 4 and ends at Maritime Heritage Park, at Holly Street and Central Avenue, with music by Big Bad Monkeys.
Participation is free; no registration necessary. Parade route and other details: bpots.org.
Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.