Stevensville’s claim to being “where Montana began” may depend on how you look at it, but what nobody can dispute is that Stevensville has the best small-town celebration in the entire known universe.
The Stevensville Creamery Picnic celebrates its 102nd year this Friday and Saturday, August 1-2, the oldest continuous community celebration in Montana.
Born from the ashes of a burned-down creamery that the town rallied to rebuild, the Creamery Picnic is a celebration of community spirit like no other.
“It’s just a wonderful community event that brings people together,” said Robin Holcomb, who has worked “every part of the picnic” for the Stevensville Civic Club as a volunteer for 10 years.
The theme for this year’s event is “The First Best Place – Where Families Can Play,” and the schedule of events guarantees that the weekend will be “play time” for all ages. New this year are events aimed at teens, a gap that was noted last year. Those events will join a long list of fun runs, obstacle runs, a “Family Fun Dance” on Friday and Saturday nights, a volleyball tournament, and more.
“All the community’s looking forward to it,” said Billy Donaldson, who oversees the “kid zone” at the event.
The event kicks off at 3 p.m. Friday, when vendor booths open to senior citizens and the smokers start perfuming Stevensville’s atmosphere with the aroma of cooking barbecue.
Barbecue? Yep, the Montana State BBQ Championship is part of the Creamery Picnic, and even features a kids cook-off to tie in with the family-friendly theme. The Barbecue Championship cook-off is part of what puts the Creamery Picnic on the must-see “bucket list” for visitors as well as locals.
The event opens to the general public at 5 p.m., and for the next 30 hours, the fun continues almost non-stop. Food and craft vendors, a live music stage, dancing, and activities for kids and families, attract so many people that shuttles are needed to get everyone there.
For the most part, Creamery Picnic events take place at Lewis & Clark Park, but the entire town gets in on the action. Main Street merchants celebrate First Friday on Friday evening, with in-store specials and refreshments, then draw shoppers back for sidewalk sales on Saturday. East Third Street will see a farmer’s market and craft booths on Saturday as well, and other events will help to spread the action out – pick up a schedule at the Stevensville Main Street Association office or other locations to see them all, or check them out online at www.creamerypicnic.com.
Of course, the main event on Main Street is the Creamery Picnic Parade, at 11 a.m. on Saturday. “It’s going to be a big one this year,” promised parade organizer Melissa Sundberg. Three days before the event she had more than 50 entries, but those entries represent hundreds of people.
“We have marching bands, veterans groups, charitable organizations, alumni, and more,” she said. It ties the community together not just in one place, but over time, she observed. “You have people who watched it as little bitty kids who are now grammas and grampas,” she said, citing its 102-year tradition.
Sundberg put in countless hours to organize the parade, but the pleasure of being part of that long tradition far outweighs the time she put in, she said. “It’s the satisfaction of giving back to my community, that’s been so good to my family. It’s so much fun, to see the same folks year after year,” she said, even when the Creamery Picnic is the only time they connect.
Having a century-old tradition doesn’t mean the event doesn’t change. Moving it to the park when it outgrew Main Street was one change, and adding teen games in response to suggestions was another.
“It will always change, every year,” said Holcomb, who sees it growing bigger and better every year. What doesn’t change, she said, is “how the community comes together to have fun.”
In addition to fun and games, the Stevensville Civic Club will be raising money for a new play structure to be installed in the park, to be called the “Bear Mountain Playground,” tentatively scheduled to be built in 2015.
The current lack of a play structure won’t lessen the fun for kids, though. Donaldson said that every 90 minutes or so, they’ll try to round up the kids for group activities in the “kid zone,” at the north end of the park. Sack races, egg tosses, and water-balloon volleyball are just part of the fun.
The Creamery Picnic takes thousands of volunteer hours to organize and carry out, but Donaldson credited organizers with spreading the load out. “There’s such a great team, there’s not any one person, just a great bunch of leaders,” he said.
For more information on shuttles, events, and more, visit the event website at www.creamerypicnic.com, or pick up a schedule at numerous locations throughout Stevensville. Admission is free.