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September 9, 2013 - Stephen Browne
In spite of the heat wave summer is drawing to a close and with it the last of the summer festivals.
A few weeks ago I took my children to the Wood Lake festival, an event that’s been held continuously for 76 years, with an occasional break for the odd polio epidemic or World War.
This weekend I took the kids to Boxelder Bug Days in Minneota, a comparative youngster as town festivals go, at only 29 years now.
It wasn’t my weekend to work, but the lady who had the weekend duty was swamped with events so I said, “What the heck, I’m going anyway, might as well take some pics while I’m there.”
I love covering these small-town events. Depending on how the weekend rotation at the newspaper works you might be out a lot of weekends over the summer. Best of all, you can take your kids, buy them some tickets and let them have some fun while Daddy works.
I mean, what’s going to happen to them in Wood Lake or Minneota?
Now consider, Wood Lake has a population of around 450 people, and if you haven't seen it take my word for it, they put on a pretty big festival.
Minneota has about 1,400 people and they've got a pretty jumping weekend. Seaforth (pop. 86) has held a Polka Festival annually for 40 years now that draws people from hundreds of miles around. The Hanley Falls (pop. 306) Threshing Festival is the Mecca of old machinery geeks. Mountain Men rendezvous yearly at Lake Benton (pop. 680).
The character of local festivals is changing. Last year Canby had to scramble to get a few rides after the carnival they dealt with folded at the last minute.
Wood Lake has a carnival they’ve dealt with for the past 15 years or so, but this year I noticed the generator powering the rides failed a few times late at night. Maybe a small glitch, and maybe an omen of things to come.
The carnival rides are getting old after years of setting them up, running them and tearing them down.
What’s replacing them are bounce houses and things like portable climbing walls and zip lines that have fewer moving parts and are easier to set up. The long high slides with no moving parts at all will probably be around for generations to come though.
What makes a local festival are the volunteers and something special and unique.
Wood Lake has legendary burgers. In Ivanhoe you can have genuine Polish food at Polska Kielbasa Days. In Minneota they have a chili cook-off and the Tug-the-Bug race with an old VW.
I met a German exchange student last weekend who was thrilled to harness up with a partner to that old German car and haul it down the track!
Festivals help create and maintain a sense of community. Long-term residents come together to create something memorable. Young people who have grown and left the community come back to reaffirm their ties with it.
And best of all, people here in Flyover Country prove that entertainment is not something that comes only from Hollywood.
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