After an absence of a decade, one of the favorite Pacific Northwest rallies is back, new and improved. Potlatch Reunion is on the calendar for Aug. 1-6, 2023 at Washington Land Yacht Harbor in Olympia, hosted by the Washington Airstream Club.
Anyone who attended Potlatch in previous years will remember the mouth-watering traditional salmon barbecues and the beauty of the area — Mount St. Helens, South Puget Sound, the Cascades and Mount Rainier. And as with all Airstream events, “Potlatch is a great gathering place to get together and share stories and adventures, and make new friendships,” says Diane Carpenter, club president.
For Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, a potlatch is a gift-giving feast. That tradition has continued as rally planners have given fun, food and fellowship to the Airstream community. Carol Ortiz, past Region 10 president and Land Yacht Harbor resident, remembers salmon dinners, entertainment, area tours and friendly competitions. One such event involved two-person teams on golf carts – a passenger giving directions around a mini-course to a blindfolded driver!
Ortiz, who also served as the Potlatch chairman in 2008, recalls holding pie sales, hot dog sales and events to collect money for food pantries, children needing school supplies at nearby Nisqually Middle School, and scholarships for youngsters wishing to play sports. Another favorite memory is the men’s fishing derby with the caught salmon being smoked on racks over wood coals from alder trees from the birch family, in a custom-made barbecue pit.
“Alder smoked,” Ortiz said.
In the past, members of the Nisqually Tribe added to the atmosphere with a flag color guard at opening ceremonies, traditional dance performances and storytelling, remembered Ortiz.
“Years ago, a native chief would invite others from around the area and give them gifts,” she said. “That’s what Potlatch is – an event, party, activities – our gift to the people who attend.”
In previous years, Potlatch was divided into “neighborhoods” for friendly competitions. A designated “mayor” would keep track of everyone in the neighborhood and engage them to get to know each other through seminars and happy hours, and games such as bean bag baseball, ping pong, and the aforementioned blindfolded golf cart driving. The winners were seated at a special table for the salmon dinner, and team captains were the waiters, Ortiz reminisced.
A variety of activities kept Potlach attendees busy. Ortiz recalled fashion shows — loaves of French bread on the feet (Ortiz was that person) and a woman wearing a “tea” dress; a dress covered in tea bags! Other activities included: winery tours, card games, Sunday morning choirs, crafts, seminars, flea markets, Bingo and Joker, golf, jam sessions and sing-a-longs.
“One year, tons of sand were brought in from Olympia for a sculpture competition with some outstanding creations,” she added.
Another activity was a poker run which involved walking through the community to five “stations” where a playing card was chosen. The person who had the best poker hand at the end of the walk was the winner.
At one Potlatch, an area family with five children performed an engaging and wonderful musical show. What Ortiz remembers most is the youngest child, a toddler with a “fake” guitar, who delighted the audience.
The area around Land Yacht Harbor is packed with things to do: hiking around Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and the Olympic Mountains, biking, canoeing and trout fishing, says Ortiz. One of her favorite activities is a gondola ride to a restaurant high atop Crystal Mountain, and the view of Mount Rainier.
“It feels like you can reach out and touch Mount Rainier,” she said.
“We are working on incorporating the old with the new to include families and children by adding arts and crafts, children’s interactive tours, daily bicycling trips, movie nights, golfing, etc.,” said Carpenter.
Nearby there are county fairs, the Space Needle, Museum of Flight, Safeco Field and Chihuly Garden in Seattle, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge with a museum and boardwalk that allows for viewing of various waterfowl and animals, and a ferry ride to Anderson Island where Ortiz fondly remembers eating ripe blackberries off the vine while waiting for the ferry to return.
Many people attend to escape the heat in the southern states, Ortiz added. It is also a great steppingstone for Airstreamers wishing to cruise to Alaska.
“There are dog and cat sitters at Land Yacht Harbor, and you can park your Airstream here,” she said. A terraport has full hookups and some residents offer parking.
What was the impetus for bringing back Potlatch?
“Millennials were sitting around talking about how the Potlatch began back in 1980, and then died off in 2013. The subject of bringing history back came up,” Carpenter recalled, and planning began — being approved as a National Event Rally this fall.
In previous years, the Potlatch rally lasted a couple of weeks. Now, it has been “modernized” into a five-day event. The centerpiece of the rally is a traditional mouthwatering salmon barbecue. Those who attend will enjoy nightly entertainment, seminars and workshops, meals, a women’s luncheon, and if they would like, golfing and various tours in the area. Day trips are possibilities to nearby venues and to the Seafair Weekend Festival for a performance of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Viewing Blue Angels practices is also a possibility.
“Potlatch begins about a month after the 66th annual International Rally in Rock Springs, Wyoming ends, and there are a lot of places to see between Rock Springs and Olympia if people want to continue west,” noted Carpenter. “There are a lot of national parks between here and there … many things to spend a month seeing.”
Another good travel stop to and from Land Yacht Harbor is Baker City, Oregon, birthplace of Airstream founder Wally Byam, where a city museum has Byam memorabilia. Potlatch campers arriving early or staying after the rally can camp for $35 nightly. There are weekly and monthly options as well, Carpenter said.
Event registration opens in January. Watch for future information in the Blue Beret for specific dates and fees. RV site reservations and event registrations will open at the same time, and those wishing to attend will find website and online addresses in future articles, according to Carpenter. Additional questions can be emailed to Diane Carpenter, club president, at email@example.com, or Potlatch Reunion chairman Donna Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This article was first published in the November 2022 Blue Beret Magazine, by Mark Magie (BRN #24797)