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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The city of Portland in the US state of Oregon has the ideal climate for roses and has been known as “The City of Roses” for over a century. Its biggest festival is the annual Portland Rose Festival in May and June. It features parades, bands, fireworks, car and boats races, carnival rides, and more.

This festival has been held every year since 1907. The concept for an annual festival came in 1905 at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition to commemorate the first expedition across the American continent to the west coast and back again. The exposition was a huge event over four months and attracted 1.6 million visitors to Portland. Mayor Harry Lane suggested an annual rose festival during a speech at the end of the exposition.

The feature event of the Portland Rose Festival is the KeyBank Grand Floral Parade, which is televised live. The 2009 parade was developed around the “Bridging Communities” theme, attracting over 90 entries and reaching across continents and centuries. There were 15 magnificent floats, over 100 horses, 19 marching bands and other music, special entries from recent history, and various dancers and crowd entertainers.

It has become America’s second largest floral parade and Oregon’s largest spectator event, with half a million people watching it. A Rose Festival Queen is selected each year to promote the festival around the country and internationally over the following year. Entrants are high school seniors in the local area and the winner is announced before the Grand Floral Parade.

There are two other parades at the festival. The Starlight Parade is an illuminated procession held at night and sponsored by Portland General Electric and SOLV. Its history goes back to the very first festival in 1907 when the fire department lit up the night with a “red fire”. The following year, over 20 brightly lit floats celebrated the Spirit of the West. Today, it is called the Starlight Parade and attracts gleaming floats, bands, and marchers in front of a crowd of quarter of a million people. The parade is televised live.

The Fred Meyer Junior Parade has also been part of the festival since the early days. About 2,000 boys and girls from 23 schools took part in the children’s parade in the first festival in 1907. The Junior Parade has been an official event since 1936 and attracts children in school groups, scouts, youth clubs, bands, and dance teams. They can march, dress up in costume, help build colorful floats, or decorate their bikes and ride them in the parade.

Waterfront Village is one of the largest events of the festival and is held at the Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park between Portland’s bustling downtown area and the picturesque Willamette River. Entry costs $5. You will find plenty of kids’ adventures, festive bands, vaudevillian acts, exotic animals, an ancient temple to tour, and a carnival with both gentle and wild rides. In 2009, the event opened on Memorial Day weekend for the first time. A number of special Memorial Day events were held, such as a people’s parade, memorial services, guest speakers, and patriotic songs and activities.

Another thing you can do is listen to great band music at BandFest in PGE Park. In 2009, the headline band was the One More Time Around Marching Band. This is the world’s largest marching band with over 500 members. They also appeared at the Grand Floral Parade and the Starlight Parade. BandFest also included special guests the Woodland String Band, a mummers band playing traditional Egyptian music. Others bands included the Salvation Army Tustin Ranch Band and the Sumner High School Band. Admission is $10.

MusicFest is an increasingly popular event giving local musicians a chance to showcase their talents. Bands of all music genres, including rock, blues, jazz, reggae, and alternative, compete for a Fender guitar or gift certificate for $750 and minor prizes of certificates worth $300 and $200. You can catch this live entertainment for free. The best three bands get to play at the Waterfront Village event.

You can visit the Annual Spring Rose Show at Lloyd Center Ice Rink for $3. The rink becomes a rose garden of more than 2,000 blooms. Now part of the Portland Rose Festival, the Spring Rose Show actually predates the festival by nearly two decades. It started back in 1889 and is now the country’s oldest and largest rose show.

The History & Roses Tour takes you on a fascinating trip back in time to see Portland’s history. You will see Barclay House, William Holmes House or Rose Farm, McLoughlin House where the “Father of Oregon” Dr John McLoughlin lived, and Ermatinger House where Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy tossed a coin to decide the city’s name. Some of these historic houses attract a small entry fee.

During Fleet Week, US naval vessels visit the festival from around the world. Navy vessels have been an important part of the festival since its first year in 1907 with a visit from the USS Charleston. Fleet Week itself goes back nearly 80 years. Tours of the ships are conducted each day and are free, but numbers are limited so be early to make sure you don’t miss out.

If you’re reasonably fit, you might like to enter the Starlight Run over 3.1 miles. Over 4,000 runners were in the 2009 event running in front of a crowd of tens of thousands along downtown streets in the cool of the evening. There is a registration fee of $15. Prizes can be won for best costumes. Or you can go in the Grand Floral Walk over four miles in the morning in front of up to half a million people.

There are car and boat races too. The Rose Cup Race at the Portland International Raceway attracts over 400 drivers in various classes and has been part of the festival for 49 years. It is the oldest amateur road race west of the Mississippi. There is drag racing on Friday and Saturday nights before the Rose Cup on Sunday. The Dragon Boat Race on the Willamette River has been a festival event for 21 years. Close to 100 teams compete in the event. Each heat has four colorful, decorated boats leaving the starting line every nine minutes.

See the Fireworks Spectacular light up the night sky over the city and river. In 2009, the pyrotechnics display was choreographed to music to add to the excitement. Watching the fireworks is free. In all, the Portland Rose Festival has more than 60 events and programs during its three and a half weeks.

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