Pure entertainment — that’s what the 30 Payson volunteers dressed as ponderosa pines offered Fiesta Bowl Parade viewers.
“They were cute; very cute,” said Matt Van Camp. He and his wife went to Phoenix to watch the parade in person to support their daughter, a member of the Payson High School (PHS) Marching Band.
But the trees captured his heart. “My wife got a hug from a tree,” he said.
Kate Hopeman, a Phoenix resident and friend of a Payson volunteer, said she thought the trees were the best. Her opinion was confirmed as she rode home on the Metro and overheard a parade goer say the trees also were their favorite part of the parade.
PHS Principal Anna Van Zile agreed with Hopeman.
“Everybody’s reaction was, ‘They’re cute!’” she said.
However, before the parade, Van Zile had concerns about how the tree idea would unfold.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I heard there would be a float with trees walking beside, but it was deserving of the accolades they received,” she said.
The Payson float won two awards, the Spirit of Arizona and the Arizona Milk Products Half-Pint Judges’ Award — an award voted on by children.
Until the volunteers saw the costume at a pre-parade meeting a week earlier, they had the same reservations as Van Zile. Many thought they would be wearing hats and shirts with twigs sprouting out.
The actual costume was anything but random twigs.
Master local seamstress and costume designer Susan Garrett created an adorable costume using hoops made of 3/8 inch PVC pipe surrounded by grosgrain ribbon ribs attached to green dyed sheets with quilt-batted triangles sewn on. To top off the tree, Garrett cut the bill off of ball caps, then sewed and glued green triangles on top.
It took Garrett three weeks to concoct the design of the costume.
“Cameron (Davis) drew a picture of the outline of a tree,” Garrett said. “He said, ‘I want a tree that can be seen from a helicopter.’”
Garrett also wanted to make sure the tree costume was comfortable and could be used multiple times by people of different sizes.
Between Garrett and Cameron Davis, Payson’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director, they rustled up 30 volunteers who spent hundreds of hours piecing together the tree costumes.
“We could not have done this without the Quilting Sisters shop and the Shoofly Quilting group — in fact, it was a combo of a lot of people,” said Garrett. She said even some non-sewing volunteers came on board to trace and cut out boughs.
Each costume took about 100 hours to put together and cost between $55 and $60.
“I went to 15 different Walmarts and bought sheets,” said Garrett. “Every time I went to the Valley I hit up another Walmart.”
She said to buy the green fabric would have been cost prohibitive. To save, she dyed the sheets in her washer at home.
For the weeks leading up to the parade, Garrett had a brutal schedule. She would wake at 6:30 a.m., start dying sheets, then arrive at the Quilting Sisters shop by 8:30 a.m. to work with volunteers to cut sheets in strips, trace pine boughs then sew batting into the boughs.
“I got it down to 20 minutes to sew all the boughs onto the hooped fabric,” she said.
The tops of the trees proved a challenge. The tough fabric of the caps forced Garrett to hot glue the last boughs on top.
“We went through 120 twin sheets and six big rolls of batting,” said Garrett.
Despite hours of preparation, it still came down to the wire.
“We had 20 seamstresses working around the clock for the last two days,” said Davis to the tree-bedecked volunteers before the parade.
Volunteers felt like they came from the 1860s when hoop skirts were the rage.
“How did they ever sit down?” they asked each other, while waiting to start the walk along the parade route.
The hooped jumper portion of the costume went over the head with two straps over the shoulders. D-rings allowed volunteers to tighten the costume high enough to keep from tripping over the bottom branches.
Around their shoulders, volunteers wrapped a pine needle-bedecked shawl that fastened with Velcro.
Then tree volunteers fastened on the hats sprouting needles with bobby pins.
“I thought the trees were the hit of the parade,” said Davis.
As the trees milled about in line for the two hours before starting on the parade route, out-of-state bands gawked and made jokes.
“How can they stand it — I’m stumped!” said the band director of a California band.
“How can you tell if it’s a dogwood? By its bark!” said a trumpet player.
The tree volunteers wondered how many more tree jokes they would have to absorb.
Not many, it turned out. Mostly the parade viewers wanted the trees to dance and spin. Parents had their children rush out to get a hug.
“Did you know you had a tree-hugger for a child?” asked volunteer John Wakelin of parents.
One onlooker asked where the Mogollon Monster was.
“Hiding in the trees!” responded a tree.
Many contribute to entry’s success
Cameron Davis, Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director, said the Payson Community Float could not have happened without community support. Following is a list of the volunteers, from builders to parade day participants, who made Payson’s entry in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl Parade a big hit.
Linda Short Ridge
Riding on the Float Volunteers
Darin North -
Bryce Davis -
Dan Murphy -
Candyce North -
Cathe and Brock Davis - camping couple
Wes Chapman -
Float Building Team
Payson Boys Basketball Team (17)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Youth Volunteers (62)
Dave Daily Construction
Lewuson Enterprise, LLC
Payson Water Department