Huckleberries galore at festival

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The 33rd annual Huckleberry Festival held its first huckleberry pie-eating contest Saturday. It was quite a hit with the crowd.

TROUT CREEK -  Over 100 vendors from Trout Creek and throughout the county attended the event providing food, crafts and demonstrations. Music and games also went throughout the weekend at the 33rd annual Huckleberry Festival.

Huckleberries filled the festival, sweetening people’s appetites with huckleberry shakes, sundaes, cheesecakes and jams. 

Liz Citrino, chair of the event, said that the desserts are always her favorite part of the festival, stating that she could not wait for her first huckleberry milkshake.

The festival kicked off Friday with the Miss Huckleberry Pageant as well as a Karaoke Sing-Along.

The annual 5K Huckleberry Run for Fun took place Saturday morning. Tony Banovich, the Plains cross country coach, said that 138 runners took part in the “gorgeous summer morning run.”

“As with the last few years, the race up front was controlled by Jacob Naegeli.  The Trout Creek native, Thompson Falls H.S. alum, and recent graduate of Earlham College (Indiana), Jacob out-legged younger brother for a winning time of 16:42.  But, Logan pulled ever closer to Jacob.  Soon to be a junior at Thompson Falls H.S., Logan ran with Jacob for most of the first two miles.  Falling back slightly, Logan still ran an impressive 17:08 for second place.  He was followed in by Christian Kafentzis in 17:36, Shawn Helvey in 18:54, and Robert Earhart in 19:15 to round out the top 5.

 On the women’s side, the Naegeli legacy continues.  Sister Mariah (who will be a sophomore at the University of Great Falls cross country team this fall) scored a solid win with her 21:57 finish.  Coming in second was an incoming freshman to the Plains High School team, Kimberly Earhart (22:59).  Third went to Kathy Conlin (23:09) who finished her first marathon this May.  Rounding out the top 5 were Jen Parman (24:27) and Kendra Hovland (24:41),” Banovich said.

Proceeds from the event go to help the Plains, Hot Springs and Thompson Falls high school cross country programs, which are all self-funded. The money raised also helps provide a yearly scholarship to a high school graduate of Sanders County who will be pursuing track or cross country at the collegiate level, Banovich explained.

“Many of the runners use this event as a kick off to a full Saturday at the festival, followed by Huckleberry pancakes, the parade, craft fair, food booths and entertainment.  How can you help but have a good time on a day like that?” asked Banovich.

This year, the pancake breakfast at the Fire Hall kicked off Saturday and Sunday morning. According to Citrino, the huckleberry pancake breakfast is the Fire Hall’s biggest fundraiser of the year. This year, Citrino said that last she remembered hearing, 1,700 breakfasts were served during the weekend, although she did not have an exact number on the amount served or the amount of money raised.

The parade kicked off at eleven Saturday morning. Floats, four-wheelers and horses flooded the streets, many decked out in a flurry of purple, holding true to the theme “Swimmin’ in Huckleberries.” Kids were delighted to see the parade roll through, screamed with excitement and scrambled to pick up candy and necklaces that were tossed to them.

Sandi Gubel, a speaker at the festival, said this year, the parade was bigger than it had been in years, almost looping around on itself in the process. According to Citrino, typically bigger parades occur during political years because the candidates often times want to be a part of them. 

Trophies were awarded to the best in ten categories: best group float: Big Beaver Creek Ranch; best truck: Don Hickleberry; best bicycle: Sharon Hill; best equestrian: Josie and Julie Reed and their horse Snickers; best car: Les Dean; best single: Huckleberry Honies; most humorous: Sharon Hill; pooper scoopers: were unavailabe at time of press; best in show and also best float: Libby Nordicfest Boat

This year’s Huckleberry Festival Grand Marshals were John and Julie Harris of Trout Creek. This honor was awarded to them because of their commitment and involvement in the community for the last ten years. The Harris,’ owners of Lakeside Motel and Resort, have put on three or four community events, said Citrino. Also, John has been an active member of ten different community-based boards.

“We are extremely proud to have them as our honorary guests,” Gubel said. 

After the parade, musicians took to the stage to set the beat of the festival. 

The Swing Street Big Band performed twice on Saturday, taking an intermission to allow the Albeni Falls Pipe and Drum to perform. The Swing Street Band has been playing at the Huckleberry Festival for 14 years and was a big hit with the crowd. 

The Albeni Falls Pipe and Drum, a non-profit, showcased their skills in between the performances, playing the bagpipes, drumming and showcasing traditional dances. 

At 3 o’clock, a jam and jelly contest began. The entries were judged thoroughly based on consistency, size of the fruit pieces, and layering. With all the criteria soundly labeled, overall taste played a big part. The judges, Sandra Davis and Charlotte Beaudry, came to a conclusion, giving Deborah Panter first place in the jam section for her “bonjour debs” huckleberry jam. Second place went to Emily Wade for her huckleberry raspberry jam, followed by Mitzi Stonehaker in third.  Velma Melnrich took first place in the jelly section of the contest with her huckleberry blend jelly, infused with raspberry juice. 

The night ended with a festival auction, a pie eating contest and attendees drifted into the night dancing to the music of The Devon Wade Band. 

Citrino explained that the festival offers a combination of the new and the old, allowing people to see their favorites, while also getting a little variety. This year, the pie-eating contest was the new addition and it was a big hit.

“The pie eating contest was a great success and I’m sure we’ll do that again,” said Citrino. 

Sunday, the festival kicked off their last day again with a Huckleberry Pancake Breakfast at the Fire Hall. 

The Huckleberry Hounds Agility Club demonstrated their doggie skills, leading their dogs through a number of obstacles as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Children’s games and face painting occurred throughout the day both Saturday and Sunday, with the help of Sanders County Coalition for Families and the Trout Creek Senior Center.

“We had quite a nice festival. The weather cooperated, everyone had a good time, and it seemed like everything went great,” Citrino said. 

Next year’s Huckleberry Festival will take place August 9 through the 11.

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