EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Patrick and Trina Freiss, Marinette, eat corn at the Marinette Logging & Heritage Festival Saturday before the fireworks on Stephenson Island.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Patrick and Trina Freiss, Marinette, eat corn at the Marinette Logging & Heritage Festival Saturday before the fireworks on Stephenson Island.

MARINETTE — The sixth annual Marinette Logging & Heritage Festival brought thousands of visitors to little Stephenson Island this weekend for food and family fun.

The three-day festival celebrating Marinette’s rich lumbering history took place on the local tourism hub named after one of Marinette’s earliest businessmen and foremost lumbermen, Isaac “Ike” Stephenson (1829-1919). Stephenson served in the Wisconsin State Assembly, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate during his political career. The festival is held each year in honor of the city’s heritage and offers visitors and local residents a weekend full of events and sights to see.

The festival also allows area non-profit organizations to be involved in the community and to raise money for their respective causes. The festival itself is a non-profit community event run by a committee of volunteers from the area. The festivities are funded by a combination of sponsorship donations and Wisconsin Room Tax monies.

“This is a hidden gem,” said festival coordinator Judy Alwin. “I can’t say enough about the people that have helped us.”

Events kicked off on Friday with an “Old Fashioned Fish Boil,” sponsored by the Marinette Moose Lodge at Red Arrow Park in the historic section of Menekaunee. Special guests included the Menominee Nation Tribal Dancers, who performed at the fish boil with traditional dancers and hoop dancers.

“I’ve been dancing since I was seven or eight years old,” said tribal member Amy “Red Cloud Woman” Wineman. “We travel around to a lot of different powwows. This is actually a mini-version of what we do for a whole weekend. We actually go for three days at a powwow, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Marinette has a close relationship with the Menominee Nation tribal members, who gathered at the mouth of the Menominee River in Menekaunee in November of 2015 and performed a wild rice blessing ceremony at the birthplace of the Menominee people. For the first time in hundreds of years, and through ceremony, prayer and song, wild rice was seeded in the waters.

On Saturday morning the sixth annual Ella Smetana Memorial 5k Run/Walk began at the Marinette Welcome Center parking lot. Smetana was a local young girl who stole the hearts of the community during her struggle with cancer six years ago, and the run/walk continues to this day in her memory.

The Marine Corps “Call To Colors” ceremony also took place Saturday morning at the flag pole on Stephenson Island, with a repeated ceremony on Sunday morning as well. The colors were retired each evening.

Throughout the weekend craft and food vendors were available to the public, selling all manner of items and food. The official menu included such favorites as blooming onions, nachos, elephant ears, freshly squeezed lemonade and grilled corn on the cob. Free events for families included inflatable bounce houses, live music, “Mischief & Majic” family entertainment from Green Bay, free ice cream giveaways for children on Saturday and Sunday and the Great Lakes Timber Show, which showcased the talents of some amateur and intrepid lumberjacks. The sawmill portion of the Stephenson Island museum was open to the public for viewing as well.

Saturday closed with a performance from the band Outlaw’d and the traditional fireworks show at dusk over the water, which encountered some technical difficulties when the finale had to be manually lit. Still, Alwin said she felt the issues didn’t detract from the general happiness at the event.

“The few problems that we had, they were all solved really quickly,” she said. “We make notes for next year and we move on.”

New Life Church held an interfaith service Sunday before the festival parade began down Riverside Avenue. Jim LaMalfa served as this year’s Parade Marshal. Other participants included the 200-member Pulaski High School marching band, the Marinette High School Marching Marines, several Shriners Units and many more. Prizes were given to the best parade floats in multiple categories: Frank’s Logging from Peshtigo won the best Logging & Heritage themed float; Marinette Marine Corp. won the best heritage-themed float other than logging; best patriotic float went to Shriners; Pine Street Quilts won best original and creative design; Veriha Trucking won best unique slogan and verbage; and best in uniqueness in musical presentation went to the Pulaski High School marching band.

Judges for the parade were EagleHerald editor Dan Kitkowski, Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and CEO Jackie Boudreau, website developer and digital strategist Melissa Ebsch from Bay Cities Radio and Rolling Thunder WI-Chapter 3 motorcycle rider Rick Williams.

Sunday also brought the annual Bike & Car Show, which Alwin said she is particularly proud of.

“Publicizing in all areas of the state and national publications makes this a popular show for car lovers of all ages,” she said. “This year’s event continued the tradition of participation by crew members of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships being built at the Marinette Marine shipyard. Their participation helps to make the show run smoothly, handling car parking duties with naval precision.”

Don J. Shepherd and Joan M. Shepherd of Marinette brought a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air to the show.

“I’ve been to the car show before but I’ve never had this car here,” Don Shepherd said. “It’s been a good day.”

Sunday afternoon brought the return of the beard growing contest as well, which awarded prizes for categories such as fullest, darkest, whitest, best try and sexiest. The band known as The Cougars appeared on the pavilion stage the same afternoon, right before some gentle rain washed over the proceedings.

According to Alwin, the festival was projected to bring in more than 22,000 visitors, with a very high impact of traveler spending again this year. She said she “couldn’t wait” to look at the final numbers after the festival’s end.

“It’s above unbelievable,” Alwin said. “It’s really been awesome.”