Parade Float Wins Hugs, Top Awards

Crowd loves dancing trees



Dancing trees.

Wise-cracking cowboys.

Perpetually lucky fishermen.

Cozy campers cuddled up to a bag of Tostitos.

An estimated $500,000 in free media exposure.

Oh — yeah — two major awards.

In short — the Payson Community Float on Saturday parlayed two months of all-out effort by hoards of volunteers and the Payson Longhorn Marching Band into a public relations triumph during a star-turn in the 42nd Annual Fiesta Bowl Parade through downtown Phoenix.

Payson’s first-ever float entry won the two top awards for floats — the Spirit of Arizona Award and the Arizona Milk Products Half-Pint Judges Award, for a float that included life-size sculptures of elk, deer and an eagle and happily waving volunteers representing fishermen, cowboys, mountain bikers and hikers atop the gaily bedecked float. But the crowd favorite had to be the 30 volunteers forming a friendly forest around the float. Trimmed in tree suits laboriously hand-sewn by a team of 20 volunteers, the trees frequently ran to the packed sidelines to embrace waving children — turning them into “tree huggers.”

Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis estimated the value of the television time and media interviews at $500,000 — thanks to Fiesta Bowl sponsor Arizona Public Service’s offer to waive the $15,000 parade float entry fee.

Payson resident John Wakelin was among the 30 “trees” thrilled to learn Payson had taken home the parade’s top two honors.  

“Can you believe that?” he said. “This is the first time we have entered into the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade and we have already won two awards.”

Davis, who was visibly moved when he learned about the awards, credited the win to hundreds of volunteers who worked up until the night before on the float and costumes. 


As many as 300 people worked on the float for two months, including 20 quilters who handmade each ponderosa pine outfit — sewing onto each green, hooped outfit dozens of triangular leaves, creating such a swirl of motion whenever the trees twirled on tip-toe that the crowd along the route constantly yelled: “Spin! Spin!” The trees invariably obliged.

Other key people making contributions to the float included Eddie Bachtell, Wes Chapman, Western Village, contractor Dave Daily, Payson High School and Lewuson Enterprise.

“The camaraderie of folks that came together and unselfishly gave of themselves to do such a great thing and we are getting to showcase the town of Payson because of that,” Cameron said.

Wakelin, who won Volunteer of the Year recently, said he was proud to be part of such a community.

“This is our way of showing off to the rest of the state what a wonderful place Payson is,” he said.

Davis, who came up with the design for the float, said he had never worked on a float before. When he learned APS was waiving the entry fee, he started sketching ideas. He said the concept of a woodsy scene complete with tent, mountain bikers, elk, anglers and hunters to highlight the area’s outdoor activities came easily.

“It really wasn’t hard because that really is what Payson is,” he said. “We are the outdoor recreational hub for central Arizona.”

Getting the rest of Arizona to know that has been the challenge, he said. 


The success of the float, however, has garnered tons of new media attention.  

“You can’t buy that kind of coverage or that kind of advertising,” Davis said. “It would cost us probably half a million dollars for the amount of stuff we have gotten in the last three days.”

And promoting Payson is the reason Davis gave up his nights and weekends to complete the float. 

“We did this to promote tourism and get people to come up and go fishing and camping.”

The parade included 150 entries, including 10 floats. 

The parade also represented a year-end triumph for the Payson Longhorn marching band, which faced its longest march of the season along a parade route that stretched more than two miles.

The band this year received top rankings in every competition it attended, but fell short in the final state playoff rounds. However, the televised turn in the Fiesta Bowl provided a fitting year-end climax, for what proved the smallest band in the parade — which drew entrants from all over the country.

The members of one band that came all the way from New Hampshire paid $1,500 each for the honor of marching in the televised parade.

Dignitaries in the parade included Gov. Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his trademark surplus Army tank and Grand Marshal Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old swimmer who won four gold and one bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The Saturday morning parade served as the curtain raiser for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl played in Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night, in which Michigan State staged a thrilling, come-from-behind, 17-16 victory over Texas Christian University.

The Thursday, Jan. 3 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game will pit the No. 4 Oregon Ducks against No. 5 Kansas State, both entering the game with 11-1 records.

Saturday’s parade served to celebrate both of the nationally televised Phoenix bowl games.

The parade was the state’s largest, single-day spectator event of the year, with people lined up along the entire two-mile parade route.

A direct link to the ABC coverage of the Payson Float


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