Fort Wayne’s Johnny Appleseed Festival celebrates pioneer spirit

September 15th, 2016

The popular event takes place this Saturday-Sunday

By Louisa Danielson | News - Sentinel 

It’s that tangy feeling of summer slipping into autumn. What other time of year could be better for the Johnny Appleseed Festival?

This year, the two day event on Saturday and Sunday will have some new food and craft vendors — and a lot of the old favorites that have been coming for years. “Most of the vendors are long-time vendors,” said Bridget Kelly, director of admissions for the festival, noting that corn on the cob probably has been sold since the second year of the festival.

Something new festival-goers may notice will be the new kiosks holding shopping bags and brochures, located at three different places in the park. “Earlier this year, we were approached by a young man who was doing an Eagle Scout project,” Kelly said.

The Scout needed to do a community service project, and he pitched the idea of creating the kiosks to the Johnny Appleseed committee. He drafted the designs, and, upon the committee’s go-ahead, built them.

“They look really neat,” Kelly said.

This year, there will be 43 food vendors, 36 demonstrators, 108 craft vendors, 10-12 farmers market sellers, 10-12 antique vendors, 8-10 individual children’s activities and four stages with continuous entertainment. Abe Lincoln, portrayed by Fritz Klein, and Johnny Appleseed, presented by Carl Werling, also will be in attendance.

Because there is no charge to come to the festival, Kelly noted it is difficult to figure out just how many people attend the event. She estimated last year there were between 225,000-245,000 people at the festival, even though there was rain early Saturday morning.

“I woke up right around two or three in the morning … and I thought it was hailing, not raining,” said Kelly, who lives in Fort Wayne. Then, she wondered, “What are the chances of it raining here and not at the park?

”Well, it did rain at the park — and some of the vendors in the Trappers and Traders section, which is next to Parnell Avenue, had to pack up and leave Saturday. But, Kelly noted with a touch of amazement, the vendors were back on Sunday.

While no one wants to get rained out of the festival, Kelly said there is a plan they follow in case the weather becomes inclement. A few years ago, a storm coming in from the west looked as if it would be pretty dangerous.

It was a Saturday, Kelly recalled. “We could just see the lightning strikes coming in. (It was this) red blob coming in from Chicago.” She explained that the festival organizers have a room with a television, so they can keep an eye out for emergencies such as bad weather.

As they monitored the storm, festival organizers circulated through the vendors and visitors, informing them they might need to evacuate. Kelly said they announced the coming storm in stages, to let people get ready to leave.

By the time the weather hit, “We had bullhorns and were warning everyone that they had to get out now,” she said. But, thanks to their preparedness plan, almost everyone already had evacuated the premises.

Rain or shine, there will be plenty of things to see and do. What will the best part be? Kelly paused to think of her favorite part, then said, “The smell of the logs and burning fires … It’s like a really nice pre-fall day.”