Unseasonably warm and pleasant weather greeted the many visitors to the inaugural ECHO News Fall Festival on Saturday, October 28th at Lion’s Park in Eagle River.
The temperatures in the high 30’s and absent precipitation were not the only surprises in store for guests – contests, games, live music and plenty of tricks and treats were also on the menu.
The main event of the early afternoon was the Nerf Battle Royale, hosted by Eagle River Area Rotary and the ECHO News. Teams of eight children or seven adults registered ahead of time to test their skills of strategy and swiftness in a refereed capture-the-flag tournament. Successful teams played up to four rounds to claim victory. The champions in the Under 12 category were Team River & Zach, with Empire Scouts coming in second. The victorious adult team was Team Chugiak.
If the Nerf Battle Royale sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first time such a event took place in the area. The Eagle River Area Rotary first hosted a battle in April at the MAC Center. The day was such a success it was clear that another kid-friendly community event was needed before the year was out. Bringing it back for fall seemed a perfect opportunity for the service-oriented club.
Nerf fans at the Fall Festival edition had plenty to do while waiting for their favorite team to play.
Local vendors addended the day, setting up booths of handmade crafts, as well as small business products. The Eagle River Lions Club sold hot dogs and hamburgers, and Jitters was on hand for anyone needing to warm up a bit with coffee or hot chocolate.
For the action-oriented crowd, a wide range of game booths were present – serving as fundraisers for local non-profit groups and schools. A selection of bean-bag toss games were set up, as well as putt-putt golf, toy boat races, face painting and dart games. One Girl Scout troop provided materials and instruction for building “stress balls” out of balloons and flour. The Eagle River High School Robotics club shared their skills with remote controlled robots. By the end of the day, the groups as a whole had raised nearly $3,000.
The Fall Festival was certainly the place to be with an appetite.
The Eagle River Elks club held a chili cook off, which drew in 15 competitors. Two separate awards were given – a panel of judges made up of the Eagle River Fire Department selected one winner, and a people’s choice award was given to the favorite chili of festival patrons. Tasting was available for $5.
The winner of the judge’s award was competitor Wayne Ronsman, an experienced chili cook off competitor from Anchorage. The people’s choice award went to novice chili chef Traci Glidden of Eagle River. Her chili was described as “sweet, with a surprise kick at the end.” When asked if she would like to share her secret, she replied firmly in the negative. She was pleased with her award, and also with the Fall Festival.
“This turned out well, and the weather is awesome. I hope it comes back next year,” she said.
Another tasty contest was the dessert bake off. This event – held by First National Bank – attracted eleven desserts, ranging from traditional chocolate cream pies to spooky and seasonal cake eyeballs. Desserts were judged on appearance, texture, taste and originality. The winning dessert was a berry-topped sour cream cheesecake, baked by Sara Kennedy. After the judging was completed, samples of all of the desserts were on sale for just a dollar. First National Bank donated their proceeds back to the ECHO News Student Journalism Program held at local schools.
Rounding out the gastronomic events was the pie-eating contest, sponsored by the Sleeping Lady Lions Club. Josh Morrisette headed the event, handing out bibs and lining up contestants. The 6-11 year old competition involved the destruction of personal sized pumpkin pies, no hands allowed. Congratulations to Colin for tackling that sweet treat with such bravery and gusto. In the adult division, competitors were served no less than one third of an apple pie each, topped with a billowing serving of whipped cream. While all of the eaters tried their best to overcome the sheer volume of sweet apple filling placed before them, LJ Kennedy of the ECHO News himself reigned victoriously by producing a clean plate first.
A festival so close to Halloween would be incomplete without costumes, and there were many to see at the event. The ECHO News organized a free costume contest. Entrants signed up for a number which was pinned to their back. Costumes were secretly judged as festivities proceeded. The winners were Aspen and Kimber Dodson for their amazing mousetrap!
Tying all of the events together was Jared Woods which was brought to you by Garcias as the DJ and MC. He not only announced the events, but entertained the crowd by playing live music and spinning dance-worthy tracks. His music is available on Spotify and jaredwoods.com.
As the afternoon events wrapped up, the evening fun began. Area churches came together to host a trunk-or-treat. An assortment of creative trunks were on display for the safe and controlled candy collecting expedition. The event was free for the public and garnered quite some attention. The line of trunk-or-treating families stretched from the top of Lions field to the bottom – and then around the corner.
As families reached the last trunk, they were offered a right turn into the haunted forest. Families were given a clear warning that the spooky trail was not for the faint of heart. Those brave enough to venture onward were treated to the sight of a werewolf-infested camp site, a zombie-filled graveyard, a freak-show circus, cackling witches and a chainsaw murderer, all veiled in a thick layer of fog and smoke. The younger crowd had a more subdued option with giant tree spiders and jars of “toes” (pickles) and “worms” (spaghetti) to feel. The haunted forest was sponsored by Keller Williams Alaska Group with creative direction by Felicia Hanna, who did a truly spectacular job.
Overall, this year’s Fall Festival was a huge success.
Not only were there nearly 2000 attendees, but the wide range of service clubs, non-profits, schools and churches all came together to fundraise – and have fun. It was truly a community event – by the community, for the community. The ECHO News particularly wants to thank everyone who participated. It would have been impossible to provide a fun, safe and traditional fall festival without the help and hard work of all the groups and individuals who put in their time and creativity.
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family. To reach Sara, email: [email protected].