More than 3,900 people came out to Yelm’s second Mermaid Festival Saturday, July 17 at Yelm City Park.
Folks flipped their fins through over 70 vendors, Disney-character photo-ops, fish-tail games, a mermaid-costume contest, the Yelm Farmers Market and, of course, the splash pad.
“It was phenomenal,” said LaDonna Shea-Hockaday, the event’s co-organizer along with creator Natalie Aimes. “This was epic. Just crazy busy. There were over 3,900 people. It was record breaking for the ... farmers market, who counted everyone on a clicker.”
Shea-Hockaday said attendees were parking all over town as people from across the region came to the event.
“I heard that the local churches had to open up their parking lots to accommodate all the people,” she said. “They were walking from all over town.”
The costume contest saw 55 kids compete and 10 adults, and Shea-Hockaday said the judges, which included Mayor JW Foster and Yelm City Councilmember EJ Curry, did a fantastic job.
Rebecca Howard, of Roy, brought her family and friends to the event decked out to the nines for the contest.
“We watched a lot of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and sang songs and just went for it, because not all mermaids are Ariel,” Howard said. “We spent all day getting ready. I had four beautiful ladies to get ready, and myself, so that is what we’ve done all day. Makeup, hair, outfits, the works.”
She and her little ones had wigs, makeup and “Bejeweled” skin decorations.
Kids from all over danced and pranced through the splash pad, the kind of natural environment a mermaid might like best.
When asked if her own mermaids were going to splash through the pad, Howard laughed and said: “They can play when the contest is over.”
And fun times were had by all, Shea-Hockaday said, save for just one negative review on Facebook.
“It was really nice,” she said. “The community just loved it. The feedback of the event was really positive. They loved the Disney characters that were there. The vendors loved it. Everyone made a lot of money. The food was great.”
Attendees Reagan Clark and Gavin Chen, both of Yelm, said they liked the food the most.
“We’ve gone around, looked at the booths, got some food,” Clark said. “We’ve eaten shaved ice and kettle corn so far.”
Chen agreed, saying, “The shaved ice with all the flavors was just amazing. It’s actually probably the most flavors I’ve ever seen.”
When Mae Scholz, of Yelm, was speaking with the Nisqually Valley News, she clutched a bag full of popcorn, jerky and fresh blueberries.
“So far we have done tattoos, face painting (and) shopping. Now we’re at the park,” Scholz said. “I’ve got a couple other (kids) running around, playing games, winning fish, just having a good time.”
She said her kids were having a blast.
“There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of fun and they seem to be wanting to buy just about everything that has to do with mermaids,” Scholz said.
An event like the Yelm Mermaid Festival is just what the community needed, she said.
“I think I’ve enjoyed the community the most, having all these people out and about and the smiles on their faces and everybody just having a good time all together,” she said. “It’s been really fun to see everybody out and about.”
Food-lover Clark echoed Scholz’s sentiments.
“I think it’s super important,” Clark said of the event. “It helps people know that we’re coming together, letting everyone know that we’re a part of something.”
Contest-entrant Howard said after the long months of the community’s COVID-19-related shutdowns, the festival was like a refreshing glass of water, especially for her family, who was parched for the cool, quenching liquid of community involvement.
“We’re actually new to the Yelm area,” Howard said. “We moved the week school was shut down, and so we moved right at the beginning of the pandemic last March, and so this is our very first Yelm event. For us to finally be out in the community, finding things, celebrating Yelm, where we live, is just awesome for us.”
Due to the festival’s unparalleled success, Shea-Hockaday said she’s just getting started.
“We’re already planning for next year, adding bigger things and more things to do for the kids,” she said, adding the plan is to add more games and activities for families next year.
The event, in a way, was humbling, she said.
“It was epic and just crazy,” Shea-Hockaday said. “I wasn’t expecting that many people to come out. The whole grounds were packed all day. I’m just really looking forward to next year and the things we can do. I think that we need more events like this for the families and for our community.”