CHASSELL - Beautiful weather, family-friendly festivities and, of course, locally grown strawberries drew hundreds of people to Chassell Saturday for the conclusion of Copper Country Strawberry Festival, but it wasn't always looking so promising.
Almost a week before the festival, the Chassell Lions Club, which organizes on the festival every year, decided to salvage the last of an unusually early strawberry crop by freezing the strawberries. The decision paid off.
"(Local strawberry farmer and the 2011 Citizen of the Year) Dan Crane really saved the festival. I can't imagine if we had to order berries from somewhere else. It just would not be the same," said 2012 Queen Lion Pam Hiltunen, whose father Allan Hackmann played an integral role in organizing the festival several decades ago. "It turned out to be very successful. ... The attendance here is probably the best I've seen."
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Chassell Lions Club President Pam Hiltunen rides in her first Strawberry Festival parade as “Queen Lion.” The Chassell Lions Club oversees the annual Strawberry Festival. For more photos, visit cu.mininggazette.com.
Crane said this year's strawberries may have even been juicier than normal, and the crowds seemed to enjoy them.
"They're a lot sweeter than the strawberries you're getting from California or Florida. It's unique to this area and that's why people flock here every festival," he said.
The Lions Club, which pumps back money raised from the shortcake it sells and other festival proceeds into the community, used a streamlined production line to convert 1,200 quarts of strawberries into hundreds of shortcakes for a long line of waiting customers.
"We came down after the parade and made a quick walkthrough of the vendors. The shortcake line got short and I said 'let's go get them,'" said Houghton resident Francis Kanniainen, taking in his eighth festival along with Linda Holman. "We can look around later."
And there was plenty to see throughout Saturday afternoon, with an array of vendors, children's games, a Friends of Fashion Vintage Fashion Show, free scientific excursions aboard Michigan Technological University's research vessel Agassiz, a barbeque chicken dinner provided by Chassell Fire Department and First Responders and live music by the Otter River Ramblers.
"It's one of the better local festivals," said Renee Hiller, who brought her three children, Nate, 8, Ben, 6 and Casey, 3. "It's pretty much a tradition for the kids. ... They know this is where they come to do the fishpond, so that's what they look forward to, and the parade and the candy."
The 70-minute-long parade entertained crowds lining both sides of U.S. 41 throughout the length of downtown Chassell.
Several high school bands, political candidates, local businesses - many of them decorated with U.P.-style flair, military trucks in convoy, emergency vehicles and, of course, 2012 Strawberry Queen Alisha Tilson and the other 13 queen candidates greeted spectators.
"It seems like the parade and everything is bigger," said Tilson, who wrapped up a week in which she also won Baraga Lumberjack Days Queen on Independence Day. "It's pretty cool to win two crowns in one week. ... Everyone is really friendly in Chassell."
For more information about Strawberry Festival, including a full list of queen candidates and a history of the event, visit coppercountrystrawberryfestival.com.