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Crawfish: Fest has long history in Tualatin

For more than 60 years, the Tualatin Crawfish Festival has been serving up the food and fun at the Tualatin Community Park.It is a yearly tradition that requires an estimated 1,100 hours to plan, but the Tualatin Crawfish Festival started in a relatively spontaneous way: To mark the opening of a new Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, erected on Seneca Street, residents of the city decided to take advantage of the fact the Tualatin River was nearly choking on crawfish.

The year was 1951, and the nearby crustacean bounty provided the small city with a veritable feast — and a new tradition. Crawfish boils became a Tualatin hallmark, and over the next 63 years, the festival would become famous enough to draw the ire of at least one Louisiana native — a voodoo enthusiast named Shelby Davis, who resented how the Pacific Northwest suburb was challenging Breaux Bridge, La.’s, claim to the title of “crawfish capital of the world.” In 1976, Davis supposedly put a curse on the yearly tradition.

The Crawfish Festival has continued, uninterrupted — though threatened with cancellation a year later, when a riot broke out there in 1977. But with each passing year, organizing the festival has grown just a little more complicated. Ed Casey, who was named King Kray of the Crawfish Festival in 1990, recalled that the festival nearly didn’t happen in 2007, the year he was named grand marshal of the parade. Casey proved a driving force in making the festival happen that year when the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce board considered simply calling it quits, concerned, as now, about the man power required — and discouraged by what appeared to be waning interest from vendors.

Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Linda Moholt said community involvement in the festival has noticeably declined over the years, although there is no shortage of folks who, like Casey, step up and give their time.

“It takes over 100 volunteers to do it,” Moholt said. “A lot of people make decisions (to volunteer) last minute. But we always get them.”

Casey estimates he has been to 38 of the past 40 Crawfish Festivals, and actively supported the festival starting in 1973, first volunteering to work at it, then helping organize it. When the Tualatin Crawfish Festival Association formed in 1980, he was one of the six-member team responsible for staging the two-day event. But even then, with the festival on a smaller scale, Casey said the process was exhausting.

“We just ran out of steam, and the chamber took it over” in 1988, he said.

It’s little wonder that, 25 years later, the chamber would also suffer planning fatigue.

“We may have to get our steam back up,” Casey joked about the now-defunct association.

As the fate of the event remains unclear, Casey is hopeful another group will pick up where the chamber left off. The retired business owner sits on the Tualatin Tomorrow Advisory Committee, and assured The Times that as his group “rewrites the goals for the city,” the festival is very much a part of the plan.

And for Casey, the festival is central to Tualatin’s sense of community.

“It’s a gathering place. I’ve seen more old friends and neighbors here at the Crawfish Festival than at any other place in town.”

Complete Crawfish Festival coverage

The Times is digging into the Tualatin Crawfish Festival

End of an Era: What does the future hold for the city's oldest festival?

Photos: The Times' Facebook page is filled with photos from the 65th annual Crawfish Festival

What'll it Take: Sponsor of Tigard Festival of Balloons talks about what it would take to keep the crawfish festival alive.

Have Your Say: Many who attended this weekend's festivities say they'd like to see it continue




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