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Moorpark Celebrates Rural Roots

History: The annual Country Days festival also marks the city's centennial. Residents praise the community's small-town atmosphere.


MOORPARK — They didn't have cell phones or razor scooters, but the city's first settlers 100 years ago had one thing in common with those who gathered for its annual Country Days festival Saturday: community spirit.

More people strolled High Street on Saturday afternoon than lived in the town when it was incorporated in June 1900, said Linda Plaks, president of the Moorpark Historical Society.

Debbie Ryono, chairwoman of Moorpark Country Days, said many residents don't know about the city's rich past, which is why festival organizers incorporated the centennial celebration.

"Most people moved here 10 to 20 years ago, but the town has been around for 100 years, and it's all part of our history," she said. "We're still a small town, just close to a major metropolitan area."

Ryono said there were only about 5,000 people in Moorpark when she moved here in 1978.

"It was the only place we could afford and there wasn't a grocery store for 10 miles," she said.

The town's population has grown six times over since then, to about 30,000. But through it all, the town has managed to stay close-knit.

"It's still a place where neighbors watch out for each other," organizer Jim Stuek said.

About 500 attended Saturday's festival, visiting information and vendor booths, checking out the live entertainment and lining up for cotton candy and kettle corn. Kids marveled at an ongoing magic show and waited their turn for rides in a mini-carnival.

And they were all quick to profess their love for Moorpark and the annual street fair.

"It brings the community together and there's such a great, small-town feeling," resident Holly Hughes said.

"You have a lot of community involvement and can see people you haven't seen for a long time," said Elly Bigley, a resident of 13 years. "All the schoolteachers and all the politicians. And the kids you watch grow up. It's very fun."

Her husband, Bob, woke up early to get a front-row seat for the event's kickoff parade, which, he said, "starts with a firetruck and ends with a garbage truck."

Stuek, the parade chairman, said it was the biggest and best ever, with five high school bands that competed for honors and close to 500 enthusiastic American Youth Soccer Organization members.

Festival-goers said they also were happy to see the vending and information booths moved back onto High Street from the side streets, where they have been in past years for easier crowd control.

Saturday afternoon, the historical society dedicated a plot of bricks it has been selling all year with help from Moorpark High School students as part of the city's 100th birthday celebration. Families can purchase bricks to be engraved with their names or special messages until Oct. 31.

"The idea was to have something to preserve our past," Plaks said.

The rest of the day was down-home and local, from the bails of hay that lined the sidewalks to the youth groups that performed dance and music on the entertainment stage.

Chris Kinal, who was working the cotton candy booth to raise money for the Moorpark High School cheerleading squad, said her family loves the event so much they moved back to Moorpark after a brief stint in Northern California.

"My husband asked for a transfer back down here because he said he missed Moorpark," she said, "especially Country Days and its community feel."

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