From the July 1, 1966, edition of the Town Crier: “Four Idyllwild youngsters and one pet line up for the July 4th parade that starts Monday morning at 10 o’clock. Front to back are Shelly Smith, Teri Leih, Bobby Leih and Jerry Smith.” Photo: Town Crier file
Idyllwild’s annual Fourth of July Parade began with a few dozen children and parents waving flags, walking their pet dogs or riding horses, bikes or trikes along the short route.

The year was 1966. It was before the Vietnam War was emblazoned in controversy and protest and this sweet parade was patriotism at its best.

The flier sent home with summer school children a few days before Idyllwild’s first Fourth of July Parade was headed “Holy Cow Let’s March!” according to a column written by Mickey Regal in the July 8, 1966, issue of The Town Crier. “There were a few girl scouts, a few cub scouts, three or four boys with decorated bicycles, a girl, Patty Jones, dressed as Uncle Sam,” Regal wrote. Some children and their parents pulled caged rabbits on carts and others had pony carts with small horses, he wrote.

The Idyll-Beast marches in last year’s parade. Photo: J.P. Crumrine

The parade organizers encouraged people of all ages, especially children, to dress up in red, white and blue to show their patriotic pride, which they continue to do nearly 50 years later.

In 1966 and the first few years of the parade, Idyllwild kept it small as locals marched with fire engines and a tiny marching band. The first parade was sponsored by County Service Area 36 and it was started by Town Hall director Dolores Bergman, according to Regal’s article. Bergman and her husband, Les, brought their five children, a baby burro, a hen and a poodle to the first parade.

“I hope the character of this first parade will prevail, that over-organization will never replace the spontaneous and fresh. It was such a glorious first,” Regal wrote in conclusion.

The next few parades started at the Fern Valley Corners and went down Circle Drive around Eleanor Park and back to the Town Hall Park, like the first parade, according to the July 5, 1968, Town Crier article about the 3rd-annual parade. The newspaper’s cover photo for the article featured Julie, Wendy and young Mike Coulter holding red, white and blue flags and firecrackers.

The first few parade activities included sack races, potato races and watermelon-eating contests, the articles explained. They also used “old-fashioned freezers” to hold enough ice cream to provide for the 100-plus people who attended the parade. The community created a very successful bake sale and raised money for many local charities and Town Hall events. The local Jaycee’s chapter in held a large family-style barbeque after the parade.

At the 45th-annual Idyllwild Fourth of July Parade last year, the same spirit of spontaneous fun lived on at the parade, according to Janice Fast, who has lived in Idyllwild for 35 years and owned The Ponderosa pet supply store for three decades on North Circle Drive (now the location of the Christmas Is shop).

One of Fast’s fondest parade memories is from the 1990s when the U.S. District Attorney Janet Reno visited Idyllwild. At the time, Fast owned The Ponderosa and Reno’s secret service agents asked to use Fast’s store for Reno to watch the parade from. “She really loved the parade,” Fast said.

About 15 years ago, parade organizers added a microphone to inform spectators about the parade, Fast said.

Last year, there were a total of 70 parade contingents, fewer than the usual 85 to 100. This was due to the down economy, according to Pat Parish, Idyllwild Rotary Club member and one of the current parade organizers. The parade has grown in scale, but the same small-town community spirit is strong.

“The parade’s growth is a sign of patriotism of this area and we’re proud of our freedoms and it is our way of celebrating,” Parish said. “I remember years ago when we came to the parade it was over in 30 minutes.”

The Idyllwild Fourth of July Parade now has about 1,000 people of all ages marching the route and takes more than an hour and a half, Parish said. The number of spectators has swelled into the thousands. People come from surrounding communities to see small-town Americana, Parish said. In the last decade, the parade has added the University of California’s bag pipe band thanks to generous donations to pay the cost, Parish said, who moved from Orange County after living part-time in Idyllwild with her husband since 1987. She has volunteered with the parade for nine years.

Bag-pipe players and drummers march in the 2010 Idyllwild Fourth of July Parade. Photo: J.P. Crumrine

The parade now attracts car clubs from all across Southern California with owners who decorate the cars in red, white and blue, said Parish.

“We’re never quite sure what we will have from year to year, so it’s a surprise,” Parish said. “It’s a delightful parade. We’re excited that it is growing every year.”

In addition to the parade, a traditional deep-pit barbecue in Idyllwild is held over the Independence Day weekend at the American Legion Post 800. This year’s barbecue will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 2, with live music afterward.

Another huge Independence Day event is the Mountain Community Patrol’s (MCP) annual fundraiser Pancake Breakfast, which has been a tradition for just over a decade, according to Janice Herdey, former MCP president and current board member. This year’s breakfast will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday, July 3, at Town Hall.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” said Herdey, who said about 600 people were served last year. “It’s a very fun day for us.”

Herdey said that the Pancake Breakfast was a hit from inception, with about 300 people attending the first year.

“It started off big and it has been growing every year,” she said. “The community really supports us.”