Put your busy life on paws and check out the Bear Festival

It’ll be a “Tropical Bearadise” in McCleary this weekend. The 53rd annual Bear Festival runs Friday through Sunday.

It’s smaller than it was in its heyday, Mayor Gary Dent admits, but it’s still a huge event for the small town.

“I’m just hoping it’s a sunny day and we get the big crowd,” he said.

Dent was involved with the festival’s planning himself for 12 years, and said just seeing a festival that endures year after year has been very special.

A kickoff dinner will be held at the McCleary VFW hall from 6 - 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $8 per person, available at Bronze Snake Tattoo, Sterling Savings Bank or through a Bear Festival princess. A dessert auction and coronation ceremony for the princesses will follow. This year’s princesses are: Megan Baum, Makayla Hill-Brookhouser, Hattie Odle, Katlyn Strom and Taylor Jean Trodahl.

Events during the festival take place in Beerbower Park or across the street. The Guns & Hoses softball tournament between police and fire departments starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday, continuing through the weekend, and the Kiddie Parade kicks off at noon Saturday, followed by the grand parade. After the parade, Tow Mater from Disney’s “Cars” will be available for pictures in the park.

The famous Bear Stew will be dished up starting at 1 p.m. Saturday. Dent said in his day, people would actually have to bleed the bear meat, which came to the organizers raw.

“I remember being involved with cutting up frozen bear meat that the game wardens would give us, or some hunters,” he recalled. “They used to boil it then drain the water out because they had to drain the bear meat,” Dent added, a lengthy process that had volunteers watching over the meat for hours on end.

Now, the the cooks often use canned bear meat with some beef mixed in. Don’t worry that that will spoil the experience, though — Dent said he used to make a game of pouring out bear meat and beef for people to see if they could tell the difference.

“More often than not they picked the bear as the beef,” he said.

The Rods & Rides car show runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Run from the Bears offers a two-mile fun run/walk and a 10K starting at 8 a.m. Cory’s Ark Petting Zoo is open Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Live music is from Sonic Funk the Band (’70s and ’80s) and Broken Trail (country) on Saturday, and the Grays Harbor Banjo Band and the Down Home Country Fiddle and Bluegrass Band Sunday. Local food, arts and crafts will be available from vendors throughout the weekend.

For the full list of events and more details, visit mcclearybearfestival.com.