FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Twenty-five years ago, Kelly Mitchell’s college roommate got married and relocated to Aroostook County. The New York City resident said Saturday that her friend has been begging her “forever” to come visit her Caribou home in July so they could attend the Maine Potato Blossom Festival together.
Mitchell finally heeded her friend’s advice this year and said Saturday that she was really glad she did.
“We have had the best time here,” Mitchell said as her three children, Dakota, 11, Shelbe, 9, and Hunter, 6, laughed and waved at a float passing by during the festival’s parade Saturday afternoon. “We came here on Thursday and have been doing something at the festival ever since. I grew up in New York, so I’d never even seen a potato blossom before I got here.”
The 63rd annual festival began July 9. Countless events took place this year, including the Potato Blossom pageants, potato picking contest, mashed potato wrestling, road, bike, canoe and kayak races, and live musical performances.
The gigantic annual parade is a fan favorite and once again was heavily attended. Thousands lined the streets hours before the parade began, and a number of revelers set up booths to sell fresh-squeezed lemonade, cold drinks and desserts to the crowd. Cars with license plates from several states, including California, Florida and Michigan, as well as from parts of Canada were parked on streets throughout Fort Fairfield. A bright blue sky and 80-plus degree temperatures made for perfect parade weather.
As is customary, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins took part in the parade. All three shook hands and talked to people along the parade route throughout the nearly two-hour procession with Collins giving an occasional high five to young children she met.
The traditional parade of pageant queens and princesses from throughout central and northern Aroostook was nearly eclipsed this year by the large number of sitting politicians and the candidates who are hoping to unseat them.
All of the candidates for governor were represented at the parade with campaign volunteers passing out buttons, leaflets and business cards to attendees. Many candidates running for local, county and state offices also were represented at the parade.
This year’s processional featured a variety of entrants, including women showcasing their Zumba dance fitness skills, youth from local hockey teams inline skating along the route, and a young man who walked the route on stilts.
The traditional entrants, including antique cars and tractors, horses, firetrucks and police cars from surrounding cities and towns, also took part in the parade.
Children scrambled to collect candy, chips and T-shirts that were thrown from the floats and waved to the Anah Shrine clowns, who were a big hit with the crowd. Children and adults applauded the race cars driven by the Anah Shrine Indy Car unit.
Emily Shaw, 9, of Caribou attended the parade with several friends and cousins. She said she has attended the event yearly since she was very young.
“I love seeing the little [Anah Indy] race cars most of all,” she said during the parade, showing off a bag full of candy she had collected. “I think it’s neat how they drive in that pattern of circles and things and don’t hit each other. I’d love to drive one.”
Mary Toner, 11, of Presque Isle said she most looks forward to seeing the pageant queens.
“I love their dresses,” she said. “But I love the horses a lot, too. I like to ride horses, and I’d like to be in the parade one day.”
Kelly Mitchell, who planned to stay in The County until Monday, said Saturday that she and her children had attended a festival event every night.
“We saw musical performances and went to a street dance,” she said. “There is so much to do here, and it’s free to anyone.”
Events were scheduled to conclude Sunday with the 25-mile Spud Cycle Classic Bike Race, music in the bandstand and fireworks on the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield.
Mitchell said she and her children were looking forward to the fireworks most of all.
“My children have never seen a live fireworks show,” she said Saturday. “They’ve watched them on television, but they’ve never seen it like they are going to do it here. We’ve already purchased food and got a big blanket so we can make a picnic supper and bring it to the fireworks. They’re so excited. I am too, to be honest. Sometimes I think I’m more excited than they are.”
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JEN LYNDS
Flag bearers on horseback lead the processional during the 63rd annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival parade Saturday. Thousands lined the streets of Fort Fairfield for the two-hour parade.