Celebrating the Fourth

BARAGA – The special thing about the Baraga County Lumberjack Days Fourth of July festivities is that it’s the kind of event that only happens in small, tight-knit communities, the kind where kids ride their bikes in the parade. Except that during Lumberjack Days, that community gets a whole lot bigger for the weekend.

Some of that growth comes from people like the extended Kamarainen and Gerard families.

For them, Lumberjack Days are a homecoming, with brothers, sisters and cousins that grew up in the area returning each year to catch up with family and friends.

Others started with no local ties. The Smith family from Lansing-area Holt, Michigan discovered Baraga by luck in the ’70s, came back for the Fourth year after year, and now feel like they’ve been adopted into the annually expanded community.

“We’ve made a lot of friends over the years,” said Laurie Smith, who watched the parade with three adult children and one of their girlfriends. She said her family volunteered at the street dance Thursday, and has also served as parade judges.

“It’s different here,” added her son Jake Smith, who said the family-friendly Baraga parade compared favorably with parades in Lansing. Some years the family has camped, sometimes they stay in a hotel, he said, but they always do “whatever it takes” to be in Baraga for the Fourth.

The Kamarainens and Gerards both had entries in the Lumberjack Days parade, mixing locals, returnees, and children that only know Baraga from vacations. For the Kamarainens, who donned ’80s workout attire and wigs for their “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” theme, the entry is an annual undertaking, and one family member noted that almost all the 20 or so family members marching and doing aerobics in short shorts were grandchildren or great-grandchildren of one of the parade’s Grand Marshals, Lola Gerard.

Gayle Isaacson, President of the Lumberjack Days committee, said turnout for both the Thursday’s street dance and the parade was strong, as was vendor participation for what she noted was the 45th annual Lumberjack Days celebration.

“We’ve had more float participants than any time in the last four or five years,” she said, citing the hometown feel and the focus on kids as reasons for Lumberjack Days’ success. She also credited the committee members and volunteers that put on the event, noting that among other duties beginning in January, committee members personally split a large dump-truck load of wood that was raffled off over the weekend.

Festivities kicked off Thursday, when Baraga’s Sonja Welch, 16, was crowned Lumberjack Days Queen prior to the street dance, which featured the band Driver.

Abby Mayo, a member of the Queen Competition Committee, said all the Queen candidates were “phenomenal,” and had reason to be proud after the competition.

“The judges said they had a really hard time choosing,” Mayo said. “They all gave good answers and were mature for their ages. I’m proud of them all.”

Friday’s events included a Liberty 5K “Let Freedom Run” walk and run, a flag-raising ceremony, a children’s parade and games, a children’s coin scramble, teen and adult games following the parade’s “2014 Yooper Games” theme, karaoke, the Ray Dompier Memorial Night Shirt Parade, the lighting of Chinese lanterns and finally, Isaacson’s favorite, the fireworks.

For Bonnie Klamerus, a member of the Kamarainen clan who now lives in Denver, it’s a great excuse to come back to her childhood haunts, and to show her own kids, who rode in the family’s mosquito-huntin’ themed float, what the U.P.’s all about.

“It’s a tradition,” she said. “It gives the kids a chance to experience a small town.”

Nick Lozier, Lumberjack Days committee Vice President and a Baraga Village Council member, said organizers are happy to welcome the extended community into the fold.

“We kind of count on that,” he said.