The Annual Atascadero Colony Days is still happening in 2020. The local event, which is viewed by many as a hometown celebration, will run as a multiple-day event starting on October 2 and showcasing the community and powered by a voracious committee of local volunteers.
This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event will look different from year’s past, but after the last few months of cancellations, just the thought of any event has excited many.
The Colony Days committee was founded in 1973 by a group of volunteers looking to enhance the city’s birthday celebration.
The first formal celebration of the city’s founding was held in 1963 to celebrate Atascadero’s 50th anniversary. The first parade was in 1974. The idea of an annual celebration came from one local North County citizen, Maggie Vandergon, who grew up involved with Paso Robles Pioneer Day and decided Atascadero needed something of its own.
Maggie served as the parade chairman for 21 years and saw the celebration as a collection of music, pageantry, music, contest, and fun that might have been held in the earliest days of the community as well as a parade.
According to an old piece written on Colony Day’s history by local resident Lon Allan, the group started small with a meeting at the Atascadero Junior High School. It slowly grew into a robust committee with officers set in place. Over the years, the committee struggled to find funding and held fundraisers like rummage sales and talent shows and, for a short while, even held a Mud Hole Beauty Queen Pageant in which well-known local men dressed up and competed for the title.
Colony Days has an excellent reason for being held in the Fall, the third Saturday in October, to be exact. Vandergon found it much easier to get local high school marching bands, a frequent feature attraction of the parades, to participate while running at full speed for football season.
Over the years, the parade has featured several unique attractions such as clowns on stilts, skydivers landing in the parade route, and a famous roller-skating elephant. The parade has also included royalty over the years. Dave Cowan, who is also credited with penning the name “Colony Days,” and Ida Moore, were the first king and queen.
This year’s celebration will look different and will begin on Thursday, October 1, and run for four-days throughout the weekend.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers were forced to find creative ways to celebrate together safely.
For the first time in Colony Day’s history, the event will be promoting a sub-theme that reads, “We are Atascadero,” in addition to the original theme, “Look how far we have come, 100 years of women’s rights, arts, and literacy,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote in Atascadero.
The 2020 event will feature a parade but not how you are accustomed to seeing it. This year, Colony Days will hold a “reverse parade” display along Palma Avenue and East Mall on October 3. In order to see the parade, people are encouraged to drive slowly or walk past the floats in lanes that will be designated for each. The reverse parade will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Those who view the parade can then mozy over to the Printery Building, where the Colony Days committee will be stationed in a historic-style tent dressed in period clothing, with the added 2020 splash of a mask, throwing citizens back to the days of Tent City for a barbecue fundraiser.
The meal tickets are $50 for tri-tip and $40 for chicken and will include beans, salad, bread, and a dessert.
The committee has provided more ways than one for those in the community to get involved. On top of the reverse parade, Saturday will also include a virtual parade. Community members can submit 7-to-10 second clips of themselves that will then be streamed into a virtual parade.
Colony Days has always been a big supporter of local arts and will be bringing back a popular contest that is sure to light up the downtown streets. This year the committee has brought back the Business Window Painting contest that sets up local businesses with Atascadero High School students or recent graduates to paint a positive message for the community using the hashtag #WeAreAtascadero.
“Just like the women of 100 years ago, our community is overcoming an adverse situation. We hope everyone will join in many of the easy to participate options to celebrate safely,” Committee Chair Karen McNamara shared. “I can’t wait to see lots of video clips, signs, and painted windows everywhere, people safely viewing the parade, enjoying the concert, and get to see many in person who drives up to get their barbecue meal. 2020 will be memorable for something great in our community!”
Photos by Rick Evans of Colony Days Parade of Years Past