Six-year-old Anthony Rodriguez looked on with amazement as he saw surrounding dirt and gravel slowly panned away to reveal gold during Saturday’s 22nd annual Heritage Day celebration in Oakhurst.
“Look, it’s gold!” he yelled. Anthony proceeded to try and pan for gold himself.
Rodriguez had just unknowingly fulfilled the entire purpose of the day’s event.
“Our motto is ‘Saving the past for the future.’ It’s really trying to get those in our area to learn more, maybe, about our history,” said Sierra Historic Sites Association board member and Heritage Day parade coordinator Brenda Negley.
Greg Voisard, member of the Coarsegold Gold Prospectors, was demonstrating how to pan for gold when Anthony was drawn in. The Coarsegold Gold Prospectors are dedicated to the promotion of the mid-1800s miners experience.
Voisard said the kids love it, a claim confirmed by the steady stream of kids at their booth throughout the day.
“They get so excited. Even finding the (gold) and stuff, it inspires them to learn about geology and the stuff around them. We teach them to go to the Mariposa Museum and History Center,” Voisard said.
Anthony was just one of many children who participated in the number of activities made available to them from noon to 8 p.m. at Fresno Flats. Along with panning for gold, kids were also able to make dolls out of handkerchiefs, carve wood and play an assortment of games from the 1800s and early 1900s. And with a washboard and a ringer, even the chore of washing clothes took a trip to the past.
“It’s nice because kids get to see what kids just like them used to do for fun,” said Lori Thiessen, who was running the booth with the games and chores.
Tours of the Laramore-Lyman House, the Taylor Log House, the Cunningham School and the Nathan Sweet Memorial Museum were also open.
Before the Heritage Day crowd took in the history of Fresno Flats, they were treated to the sights and sounds of the Heritage Day Parade, which began at 10 a.m. and highlighted 35 of the community’s politicians, groups, businesses, schools and organizations.
Seeing Cal Fire engines in the parade was especially exciting for Cody Newitt, 28, of Oakhurst.
“The entire fire crews that came out, they’ve been doing a lot of work out here, so it’s nice to see them actually take some time and do something fun,” Newitt said.
This year, over 500 parade attendees were treated to a special bit of acting. In character as a masked bandit named “Black Bart,” Ken Machoian, robbed the Sierra Historic Sites Association’s wagon.
“Hand it over! Hand it over!” yelled Machoian as he pointed his black toy rifle at the wagon’s young passengers. A few of the children managed to stay in character, while others couldn’t help but smile along with the audience.
The five children on board the wagon fought back, firing their own toy pistols at Machoian to take him down and stop the robbery just as the bandit turned his back thinking he managed to get away. Machoian also portrayed Boot Taylor, one of the earliest Sierra National Forest Rangers from the early 20th century.
“I was on both sides of the law today,” Machoian joked.
There were also a pair of dancing displays courtesy of the Yosemite High School Cheer Team and Yosemite Dance Company. The YHS band played a Daft Punk medley. And Gymnastics by Diane treated the audience to a flurry of cartwheels, flips and somersaults.
Sheri Mount and Gretchen Lee paid tribute to the community’s heritage in the parade and had their carriages pulled by a pair of miniature horses.
“It’s just some good old small-town fun,” said Tim Madden of Ahwahnee, who emceed for the audience along School Road.
For those who prefer antique cars to wagons, there was also plenty to see. Volunteer of the Year Vicki Burkhalter was driven through in a pristine 1959 red Cadillac driven by Don Ashton, Fresno Flats president.
Other classic car entries included Staff Sgt. Glenn A. York, the guest veteran who took his stroll down School Road and Crane Valley Road in a 1913 Ford Model T; Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler who drove his 1930 Chevy sedan; and Reimer’s Candies and Gifts which opted for a 1962 red Corvette.
Madden enjoyed the cars so much, he couldn’t choose a favorite.
“They were just all beautiful,” he said.
Whether it was Smokey the Bear or the Yosemite Mountain Warriors Christian Motorcycle Club, the audience smiled and waved, and the parade entrants smiled and waved back. Newitt said there is nothing quite like Heritage Day in the community.
“At least once a year (the community) can slow down, take the time and do something nice,” Newitt said.
The parade entries were scored by a panel of judges and had the opportunity to win awards in several categories.
Best of Show - Miniature Horse Pioneers
Spirit Award - Yosemite High School band
Best of Commercial - Nimmo Designated Driver Service
Heritage Bonus Award - Kat Bacindo
Color Guard - California Cadet Corps.
Marching Unit - YHS band
Floats - Big Brothers and Sisters of America
Antique Vehicle - Mike and Louis Kloss (1929 Model A Ford Tudor)
Classic Vehicle - Phil & Pat Meadows (1957 Chevy Nomad)
Other Vehicle - Mike & Joyce Decker (2010 Dodge Challenger)
Motorcycles - Yosemite Mountain Warriors Christian Motorcycle Club
Trucks and Service Vehicles - Steve’s Pet Shop
Dancers/Gymnastics - Gymnastics by Diane
Scouts/Explorers - Girl Scout Service Unit 38
Clubs/Service Organizations - Oakhurst Elks Lodge
Equestrian - Miniature Horse Pioneers
Political - Tom Wheeler
Grand Marshall Award - Eastern Madera County SPCA
Cheer - YHS Cheerleaders
Honored Veterans - Staff Sgt. Glenn York