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For some, Steamboat Days officially starts with the annual ribbon cutting at the beverage garden and the proverbial tapping of the keg. For others, the festivities start hours earlier, when food trucks open for business and the first brat, funnel cake or cheese curd comes off the grill or the deep fat fryer.

Tammy Parpart, 52, of Winona was among the first to step up to the Winona Chamber of Commerce brat stand and walk away with the signature item.

“I just love the food,” she said with a wide grin across her face.

Parpart is just one of many Winonans who celebrate the arrival of the Steamboat Days festivities with a brat, burger or gyro — or in Parpart’s case, funnel cakes and cheese curds.

And she isn’t alone.

Mayor Mark Peterson, recently retired as director of the Winona County Historical Society, was the first to carry off a brat just as the Chamber of Commerce stand opened at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Peterson said he’s been first in line for a brat the past six years running.

But while some things never change, this year’s Steamboat Days celebration might look a little different than last years.

This year marks the first the festival has been held in the newly renovated Levee Park.

Levee Park

Steamboat Days will be at its new location in Levee Park this year in downtown Winona.

Steamboat Days organizer Fred Benning, who himself was enjoying a brat of his own, said bringing Steamboat Days to Levee Park was both exciting and a challenge.

He said getting the beverage garden to fit into the newly renovated space posed a unique challenge because the tent couldn’t be staked to the ground. Instead, large concrete blocks had to be brought in to secure it.

Benning, who’s been helping to put on the annual celebration for the past 50 years, said flooding and high water also forced organizers to move several events, including the BMX bike show. A location wasn’t finalized as of Wednesday afternoon.

Despite challenges with space and weather, festivities are rolling full steam ahead said Benning who highlighted several firsts.

After 10 years of trying, Benning successfully managed to book the Budweiser Clydesdales, and this year’s Grand Parade will feature two military bands, including a Navy band out of Chicago that will play in the parade for the first time and the return of a Twin Cities Army band.

“We have one the best parades in the Midwest,” he said. “We don’t allow any junk and no politicians. Everything has to have entertainment value.”

Benning wasn’t the only one looking forward to this year’s Grande Parade on Sunday at 12:01 p.m.

Jen Slinkman, who was just sitting down to a brat, said she’s looking forward to seeing her 17-year-old daughter, Kailee, march in the parade.

“She’s a flag girl with the senior high band,” the 41-year-old mother said, gushing with pride.

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Tobias Mann covers crime and government in Winona County. He can be reached at 507-453-3522 or at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com

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