At Beaver Queen Pageant, ‘let loose and be free’

Jun. 01, 2013 @ 09:01 PM

In his red Dorothy shoes, sequined purple dress and giant beaver Pope hat, Ray Lingle was ready for the Big Beaver Revival.

At the 9th annual Beaver Queen Pageant at Duke Park Meadow Saturday, volunteers dressed up as beaver monks and nuns and fundraised for the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association. The creek winds through the Duke Park neighborhood.

Women in hats big enough for Easter Sunday and men in glittery short skirts danced in the lawn as Lingle watched through his Coke-bottle glasses. Later that evening, six contestants would fight for the title of Beaver Queen. They’d dress up in formal wear. They’d answer tough questions and share their talents. It’s just like any ol’ beauty pageant, but with a tree-hugging twist.

“You have to be all about it,” said Lingle, who won the pageant in 2011 with his beaver queen persona, Fur Pelton John. “You have to let loose and be free.”

On Saturday, he danced around as Pope Pelton.

The volunteers who’ve been around since the pageant started are called the O.B.s – Original Beavers. Many were dressed as those monks and nuns, but with painted brown beaver noses.

“Nine years ago this evening, we commandeered the park under the shroud of darkness,” said Kaferine de Nerve, also known as local activist and Duke Park resident Katherine O’Brien. The tight-knit neighborhood of 25 people started the glittery, twirling dance party of swinging beaver tails.

The Beaver Queen Pageant was born in 2005 after beavers flooded part of the I-85 expansion. The state wanted to kill the furry little workers, so the Duke Park neighborhood started thinking up ways to save the rodents.

The money raised through the pageant goes toward the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, which owns 340 acres of urban nature preserves.

Last year, the event raised $13,000 before costs, and this year’s goal, a volunteer said, was $10,000.

The annual pageant has taken on a cult-like following, and hundreds gather in the meadow for the party of the year. Food trucks lined the street, selling pizza and ice cream in nearly 90-degree weather, as families took to the shade on blankets and in lawn chairs.

Becky Payne, her dreadlock hair contained in a makeshift halo, received the nickname “Dreaded Beaver” years ago. She joined the movement after hearing about the pageant from one of her Aveda hair salon clients. The client had participated as a contestant nicknamed “Dirty Beaver.”

“One of her talents was interpretive slip-and-slide, and I thought, I had to be a part of that,” Payne said.

Payne was dressed in an angel robe, wielding a stick adorned with a stuffed beaver stuffed. On it, it said, “WWBD?” What Would Beavers Do?

Across from her, a girl dressed as a green bug ran around the yard and others twirled parasols as they danced. A booth was set up that read, “Beaver Confession,” where you could “buy your way to beaver heaven” for three to five dollars.

The Bulltown Strutters community parade band wailed “Rollin’ on the River” and the “Beaver Drag” in a New-Orleans, hillbilly music infusion. Musicians rocked out on the harmonica and banjo.

“This is what Durham is,” Payne said.

A family picnicking on blankets had black beaver tails jutting from their pants. Three-year-old Elliot Angerer enjoyed a Locopop while swinging his tail of stickers and rhinestones.

Friends Tammy Wells-Angerer and Grayson Leverenz decided it would be a fun craft project for the children.

“I told Tammy that this is one of my favorite things of the year,” Leverenz said. “It’s better than Christmas.”