Winslow's classic Scotch Broom Festival surprises downtown

Scotch Broom Queen Erin Ayriss holds her royal bouquet of scotch broom, and proudly wears her crown before leading festival participants on a parade through downtown.  - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
Scotch Broom Queen Erin Ayriss holds her royal bouquet of scotch broom, and proudly wears her crown before leading festival participants on a parade through downtown.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

Erin Ayriss was walking by the Town and Country when she was swept off her feet by a mirthful mob.

The occasion?

The Scotch Broom Festival — a local tradition known mainly for being unexpected, rather quirky, and resulting in a horde of cheering islanders marching around downtown with handfuls of scotch broom.

Ayriss was passing through downtown Winslow Wednesday, on her way to Barnabee Farm when she came upon the highlight of the Scotch Broom Festival — the tiddlywinks competition in the grocery store's parking lot.

"I just was passing by on my way to work," Ayriss said. "I just happened upon the event."

But then, true to tradition, the crowd turned, and scanned the crowd for the one who would become queen of the festival.

And there stood Ayriss.

A crown of scotch broom was placed upon the head of Queen Aryiss, who then sat in a convertible proceeding down Winslow Way, and led a small crowd of scotch broom bearers from the Town and Country parking lot to Winslow Green and back.

Though Ayriss said she was allergic to scotch broom, the 21-year-old took on the royal role with grace and a smile.

The festival began, as always, with little fanfare other than the appearance of a small crowd near the Town and Country. They began cheering and waving around fistfuls of scotch broom branches. Confused passersby paused, and the crowd began to grow.

But with support from the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association, the Scotch Broom Festival hit Winslow with its classic and unexpected charm.

"This was much larger than I expected," said Doug Burns, the Kiwanis member who organized this year's festival.

"It is such a great small-town event," said Sina Pradel, program coordinator for the downtown association.

"This is what makes Bainbridge so special," she added.

This was Pradel's first Scotch Broom Festival since the 1970s, and she returned to the spirit of the event with vigor. Representing the downtown association she faced Tom Watson, president of the local Kiwanis chapter, in an intense duel of tiddlywinks.

Watson came out strong at the start of the match during his practice shots, but when the pressure was on, it was Pradel who dominated and won the game.

"I definitely choked," Watson said. "I got overconfident after my practice shot."

Watson is a champion tiddlywinks competitor, who last took on the Rotary in a match between the two clubs eight years ago, and claimed the tiddlywinks title.

"Obviously, I didn't train enough this time," Watson said.

"Obviously, she's a ringer,"  Burns added. "I mean, come on, five in a row!"

After Pradel came away from the competition victorious, she was awarded the honor of selecting the Scotch Broom Festival Queen from the crowd of onlookers, and the choice was obvious.

The parade of scotch broom marchers passed quite a few confused faces, and brought out curious patrons from downtown merchants.

The drivers in the long line of cars backing up behind the parade might have been frustrated at the delay if they weren't so confused about the whole ordeal, and perhaps even slightly amused.

But it was over almost as quickly as it began. Even so, it did run longer than expected — just over 10 minutes.

The Scotch Broom Festival is a quirky island tradition dating back to 1965 when Kiwanis member John Rudoplh began the event on a whim. With a tiddlywinks competition between the Kiwanis and the Rotary Club, followed by a short parade down Winslow Way, the tradition was established.

The festival is meant to be an impromptu event with little planning and no notification — aside from whispers and winks throughout the community.


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