WILLISTON - What started out as a one-day festival to honor the efforts of an enterprising group of sixth-graders continues to expand into a regional event for families. The seventh annual Chokecherry Festival will be held at Harmon Park in Williston this year today and Saturday, with a long list of free events focused on families and the state's officially recognized fruit, the Chokecherry.
"The festival's original vision focused on having the event as a celebration of the accomplishments of youth," said Sabrina Ramey, event and communications coordinator for the Williston Convention and Visitors Bureau. A committee of dedicated volunteers, along with the Williston CVB, promotes and organizes the event, an event that started with an assignment for Nancy Selby's sixth-grade class at Rickard Elementary in Williston.
"It was Nancy Selby's class assignment to write a persuasive letter that prompted the class to push for the state's adoption of the Chokecherry as North Dakota's official fruit," explained Tom Kvamme, an original member of the Chokecherry Festival organizing committee. "And then I opined in an editorial that an event should be held to honor their efforts - as the first group of kids to push for a legislative matter in the state. The next day, wouldn't you know it, Nancy calls me, we start to work with others like Rex McCaughtry to get an event organized, and the rest, as they say, is history."
Ultimate Air Dogs will be a part of today’s Chokecherry Festival activities in Williston.
It's an important part of the Chokecherry Festival to provide as many family-fun events as possible at no cost to those who attend.
"The best part is the activities are priced right!" joked Kvamme.
Ramey says new activities this year include more entertainment acts, a community fish fry and the Ultimate Air Dogs, a display that has never been to Williston.
Chokecherry Festival events
Free burger feed at Harmon Park, courtesy of Nemont, 4 to 7 p.m.
Live music entertainment and an appearance by the Ultimate Air Dogs, (ultimateairdogs.com).
Free ice cream with chokecherry syrup courtesy of American State Bank (in conjunction with the burger feed)
Vendor and food booths in the park
Free pancake breakfast with chokecherry syrup courtesy of Western Cooperative Credit Union, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Chokecherry 5k Run/Walk and 1 Mile Run/Walk, registration 8 a.m. and event at 9 a.m.
Chokecherry Kids Stroll, 10 a.m. Decorate your bike, wagon, dog or even just yourself and join us for a short parade-style stroll down Main Street into Harmon Park. (Lineup at 9:30 a.m. at First Lutheran Church)
Free Kid Zone featuring teacher-turned-comedian Michael Luongo with his show "Stand Up for Kids"
Live music: Jesse Veeder, Cody Lindstrom, Gettin' Outta Dodge and Six Appeal
Live music: Chokecherry jam sessions (local amateur talent from schools, talent shows, etc.)
Vendor and food booths in the park all day
Community Fishfry benefiting Knights of Columbus charities and Chokecherry Festival
"We're trying to expand the festival in the right family-fun direction, and continue to push this as a local and regional attraction," said Ramey.
The two-day festival in past years has attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 individuals, with the large majority being kids.
Don't be surprised to see the state's fruit highlighted throughout the event. Visitors can experience chokecherry syrup on your free ice cream for dessert following today's free burger feed, or chokecherry syrup poured on your pancakes at the free breakfast on Saturday.
If you want to experience chokecherries beyond a meal don't forget to stop by the chokecherry "store" at Harmon Park, where Williston CVB staff, board members and volunteers will be showcasing products made from the official state fruit, chokecherry-themed products, and commemorative items from the festival like pins, key chains, t-shirts and more.
Anything to do with the Chokecherry, in honor of efforts made more than seven years ago by a group of sixth-graders, now known affectionately as "The Chokecherry Kids."