At Beaver Queen Pageant, have a laugh for a serious cause

Performers parade through Duke Park to the stage at the start of the 12th annual Beaver Queen Pageant in this June 2016 file photo.
Performers parade through Duke Park to the stage at the start of the 12th annual Beaver Queen Pageant in this June 2016 file photo. The Herald-Sun

It’s bawdy, it’s irreverent, but it also bills itself as family-friendly, and all the money raised goes for an environmental cause — to improve the water quality of Ellerbe Creek.

It is the annual Beaver Queen Pageant, and the 13th annual contest for the queen of the wetlands will be held Saturday, June 3, in Duke Park. Just about everything that is said at the pageant or published on the Beaver Queen website is a pun or a play on words on some cultural reference. The contestants this year, for example, are Beaver La Resistance, The Cowardly Beaver, Phill A. Rhee Ellerbe, Fur-Eddie Mercury, Glean-da The Good Beaver and Platypussy Galore.

Their biographies are equally pun-filled, and full of references. Phill A. Rhee refers to himself as an “executive/lobbyist for the tin mining faction of Puke Energy.” Fur-Eddie Mercury, according to his biography, has written the song hits “We are the Chewmpions” and “Beaverian Rhapsody.”

Visitors can expect several rituals at the pageant. The Bulltown Strutters always begin the event with a parade, and there is the singing of “Down by the Ellerbe” (to the tune of “Down by the Riverside”) and the recitation of the Beaver Chant.

The contestant costumes, staging and contestant biographies are part of what Rachel Cohn, development assistant at Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA), calls the creative team. The pageant dates to 2005, when some Duke Park residents stepped in to protect some beavers from being destroyed by a road construction project.

The purpose of the pageant is more serious, the funding of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association’s projects to protect the watershed. “It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year in terms of events,” Cohn said. In 2015, the pageant made $17,320 toward ECWA projects, and $14,500 in 2016, Cohn said. The association, among other projects, maintains four trails and nature preserves — Beaver Marsh Trail, 17 Acre Wood Nature Preserve, Glennstone Nature Preserve and Pearl Mill Nature Preserve.

“One of the wonderful things about the pageant … is the people who come” realize “that what we need is money toward our operation and mission,” said Chris Dreps, executive director of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association. The pageant allows the association to raise more money outside of just individual donors, he said. The pageant makes money through “bribes” that visitors pay judges to support their favorite contestant. Each vote is $5, no identification is required, and voting multiple times is perfectly legal and encouraged.

Dreps describes the challenge of Ellerbe Creek as “[turning] back the clock on pollution. ... We’re starting with an area of downtown Durham and urban Durham that was developed before storm water” protection laws came about, he said. The association looks to fix existing pollution, while looking to the future through advocating stronger local ordinances for water runoff into the creek, he said.

The pageant also introduces more people to the work of the association, Dreps said, while proving that “we don’t take ourselves too seriously and can have a laugh.”

Go and Do

WHAT: 13th annual Beaver Queen Pageant

WHEN: Saturday, June 3, 4 p.m. Pre-pageant activities begin at 4, and the pageant begins at 5.

WHERE: Duke Park meadow, at Acadia and West Knox streets

ADMISSION: Free, but visitors are encouraged to “bribe” the judges and support the contestants. More information at www.beaverqueen.org and www.ellerbecreek.org