March 16, 2005 - It is said that Southern Pacific Railroad workers hacked through the vegetation northwest of Tucson in the late 1800s and nicknamed the area the Spanish word for "jungle" or "tangle" - Maraña.

Almost a century later, in 1977, the town of Marana came to be, with 10 square miles to its name and about 1,500 residents.

Every year since, its residents - now about 20,000 - have celebrated Marana Founders Day. They've set aside a day or two in March to honor their roots with amusements such as rodeo events and small-town parades.

This year, Maranans plan to celebrate for a record three days, something they tried to do last year but couldn't because of rain. The weekend of March 19 and 20, with some spillage into March 18, is loaded with the kind of merry-making that gives the "jungle" - now 120 square miles - its character.

What's more, it's all free - excluding food and drinks, which will be sold.

"This is an alcohol-free event and is family-oriented," said Tammy Reyes, the special events coordinator for Marana.

Festivities will begin at 7 p.m. March 18 with rodeo-watching at the Western Heritage Arena. There, spectators will take in team roping, calf roping and barrel racing events until 11 p.m.

For late risers, Saturday's merry-making will begin with an 11 a.m. parade best watched from Ora Mae Harn Park.

The parade will feature the town council in a stagecoach, Marana's queen, and the Marana Chamber of Commerce's newly elected Man and Woman of the Year. The Fort Huachuca Mountain Calvary and re-enactors from the Western Buffalo Soldiers Association will also attend, along with the usual crowd of horseback riders and float makers.

The parade will start at Marana Middle School, proceed down Lon Adams and Barnett roads, cut through a school bus depot and end up back at the school.

Early risers on Saturday will have spent several pre-parade hours at the arena, where the Junior Rodeo kicks off at 8 a.m.

After the parade, entertainment seekers will have the option to stay at Ora Mae Park for live music and shows, or to take the horse-drawn wagon shuttle back to the arena for more rodeo and, at the end of the day, music and a barbecue.

Diversions at the park will include a pow-wow by members of the Tohono O'odham Nation, a car show, an arts and crafts show, and inflatable castles for children who like to jump.

The park's musical lineup will include country rock, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, a cappella and country music.

The free shuttle wagon will make stops at the park and arena every 20 or 30 minutes.

The Cowpoke Olympics will likely attract a crowd mid-afternoon Saturday. Six teams will compete at the arena in timed events including a wheelbarrow race, a cow chip toss and a challenging event on broomstick horses.

Sunday's festivities will be simple. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the arena will come alive with barrel racing and mounted shooters. Just like on Friday and Saturday, a carnival will run through it all.

The arena is adjacent to Ora Mae Harn Park, off Barnett Road.

Reyes said the festivities will reinforce Marana's beginnings as a small community of farmers and ranchers.

"This is about our heritage and culture, and about trying to instill that small-town philosophy even though we've grown as much as we've grown," she said. "It's amazing how things change. We don't want Marana to ever lose its roots."

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