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Out In Left Field column: River Falls 'Sooners' stake their claim

"This land is mine!" screamed young Joseph Donnelly in the 1992 movie "Far and Away," with his fair-skinned corker, Shannon, soon to be by his side.

It was a scene depicting the 1893 Oklahoma Land Run where the U.S. government gave away 6 million acres of Cherokee land to be farmed.

The problem was (notwithstanding the Cherokee swindle), there were 100,000 people racing at high noon to stake their claim for 40,000 free plots of land. 60,000 people were left with nothing. Those hiding in the brush or a river next to their claim days before, waiting until the high noon cannon was fired, were called "Sooners," the current mascot of the University of Oklahoma.

River Falls has a slew of "Sooners" and they're staking their claims to precious curb-side land on North Main Street a dab of Division Street, and Second Street for one of the best events of the year.

Yes, it's the annual River Falls Days Parade Land Run where a husky 37 year-old wool-stained blanket can reside in a basement for 51 weeks out of the year and earn every penny of its rent by "saving" its owner's spot for the coveted River Falls Days Parade the second Friday in July.

I moved to River Falls in 2005 and Jenna and I happened to be in town for the first time together the Monday before River Days looking to buy a home. John Linehan, raised in River Falls, was our realtor and I asked him what the deal was with all the blankets by the road. He just shook his head, smiled, and said, "People saving their spot for the parade this Friday."

"Friday?" I said. "That's 4 days away."

"There were blankets out a few days ago," said John.

"That must be some parade," I said.

Like the Irish lass Shannon in "Far and Away," the River Falls Days Parade is a corker. It's nearly 200 floats strong and lasts about 3 hours. It's easy to see why the shaded roadside real estate is at a premium on parade day.

One technically needs a permit to have a dog in the city of River Falls (it's $5 by the way), but no permit is required to walk on to someone else's property and place a blanket thereby staking your claim to that spot for the Friday night festivities.

Long-time River Falls Post Office employee (now retired) Beth Dusek said the space outside the post-office has been first-come-first-serve "forever."

"It's been happening as long as I can remember," said Lori's Salon & Day Spa owner Lori Moran on Second Street, "We had someone just put down a blanket right in front of our place over the weekend, but I had to take it off. I didn't throw it away, I just folded it up nice and hope they come get it."

Moran and the rest of her Lori's Salon & Day Spa employees and families have used their succulent shade parade haven to watch for the last 18 years and I suppose that's OK. She does legally own the land. I'm not real estate attorney Max Neuhaus, but I don't think a blanket, even weighted with rocks, would supersede a property deed.

Moran still has to "stake her claim" even though she owns the property, otherwise she'd be folding blankets all week.

"Anybody that's a customer of ours is more than welcomed to come watch with us in our spot," Moran gladly offered.

Blankets, however, can blow over and they almost seem too "nice" to stake a claim. As far as I know, there haven't been any shoot-outs on Second Street concerning a re-blanketed claim, but to help cease the supplanting, residents have resorted to stakes and police line tape in more recent years. I think the "do not cross" yellow police line tape, though still unofficial, seems like a much more menacing deterrent to ward off other "Sooners." It's also more weather resistant than its musty malodorous counterpart. The unofficial police line tape may just be the wave of the future in staking your land claim to the River Falls Days Parade.

You know what the best part of this entire story is, though, other than the parade itself? It's not people thinking a blanket (or tape) allows rightful ownership to land that's not legally theirs; it's the fact people in our town respect the blanket in most cases. They respect the blanketed parade spot claim. It worked in the 1893 Oklahoma Land Run and still works in River Falls today.

The River Falls Days Parade, what a corker you are, far and away the best parade around.