March 21, 2019

Apple festival draws thousands

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Apple Festival helper Kaitlin Bort, 12, fills an antique apple press with MacIntosh apples Saturday at the 44th annual LaFayette Apple Festival in LaFayette.

LaFAYETTE —The dark clouds and short bursts of rain that ushered in the town’s 44th annual Apple Festival Saturday morning did little to deter the thousands of people from miles around who came to take part in the event.

On Saturday, Esther LaClair, president of the event’s board of directors and one of the three original founders of the Apple Festival, did not expect the wet weather to dampen turn out.

She said she learned after putting together the very first Apple Festival in 1972 that when the community worked together to put on a fun, family event, little could be done to stop them.

“There were so many Doubting Thomases who said, ‘You people are just wasting your time,’” LaClair said. “The first year … we looked up (Interstate) 81, it was packed — bumper-to-bumper cars. We knew we had something then.”

Much like the sweet smells emanating from the vendors selling apple fritters and caramel corn during the first day of the weekend-long event, the energy brought by those attending the 44th annual Apple Festival hung in the air.

Groups of people randomly stopped to pose for pictures and selfies with the huge picture of Johnny Appleseed painted on the side of the old apple barn welcoming visitors to the festival.

Inside part of the barn was the cider mill, where small groups of children lined up to help Nelson Chapman and his niece, Kaitlin Bort, 12, make cider the old-fashioned way, using an antique cider press.

Some of the kids took turns putting apples into the hopper where they were chopped and crushed. The juice squeezed from the apples into a pot was quickly strained through a filter, and served fresh to visitors.

Chapman said outside of seeing so many children eager to partake in the cider-making, the best part of the Apple Festival is how it attracts so many people who end up supporting area businesses and non-profits.

“It’s always a nice weekend,” he said. “All the food vendors here are nonprofit from LaFayette and surrounding areas. The more people that are here, … the more the non-profits are getting and it’s a win-win situation that way.”

While there was no shortage of people lining up to sample fresh cider or any of the variety of other treats sold at the Apple Festival, the main attraction seemed to be the dozens of craft tents toward the back of the225-acre farmland.

From pictures and paintings to clothing, accessories, desserts and more, roughly 500 crafters attended this year’s Apple Festival, each of which were selected by the event’s board members to ensure the best quality products were sold.

Perhaps one of the most unique crafters to attend this year’s festival was Scott Simmons, owner of Copenhagen Carvers. Based out of Copenhagen in Lewis County, Simmons used a chainsaw to carve intricate sculptures out of logs and huge chunks of wood.

This was the second year he’s attended the event.

The process is loud and messy but once completed, visitors were drawn to the finished product. The sculptures ranged in size from small pumpkins and bears to life-size tributes to firemen and members of the armed forces — his favorite pieces to do.

“It’s awesome when I can bring pieces like that to life,” he said. “If you can do a piece that has a lot of meaning to the people that see it, I don’t care if I sell it. The goal is to sell it, … but I just want people to enjoy what we do.”

LaClair said the positive feedback from residents and having so many talented and creative people in one place is what she looks forward to each year, but none of which would be possible if it weren’t for the people who make it happen.

“You’ve got to have the help of the whole community,” she said. “I think everybody gears up for it. I feel we’ve been quite successful for 44 years.”

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