While the food is a big draw, it’s the giant arts and crafts show with nearly 300 vendors that attracts the largest crowds to Cranberry Fest. This vendor selling maple sap pails was all smiles Saturday morning. —Staff Photos By GARY RIDDERBUSCH
While the food is a big draw, it’s the giant arts and crafts show with nearly 300 vendors that attracts the largest crowds to Cranberry Fest. This vendor selling maple sap pails was all smiles Saturday morning. —Staff Photos By GARY RIDDERBUSCH
While there were cloudy skies both days, Cranberry Fest escaped rain showers for the most part and thousands of people came to the Eagle River area for the popular event that salutes a tiny red berry.

Natalie Spiess, events coordinator for the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, said tens of thousands of people walked through the Vilas County Fairgrounds gates Saturday and Sunday for the chamber’s most popular festival.

“We are very happy with it. From the chamber’s perspective, it was a successful Cranberry Fest weekend,” said Spiess Monday after completing her second Cranberry Fest as chamber events coordinator. “No mud, no straw and really no rain.”

Spiess was referring to last year’s fest, when the Eagle River area received more than 2 inches of rain on Saturday. This year, there was only a light mist and a little rain at times Saturday, but not enough to hurt the crowds for the 39th annual event.

“It was a great weekend, just phenomenal,” said Spiess. “Most of the vendors were set up Friday night before the rain started.”

Spiess said Saturday was one of the busiest days at the fest in a long time.

“We sold out of bakery items in the food tent Saturday, the vendors said they had excellent sales and the shoppers were happy,” said Spiess, who said as many as 40,000 people may have visited the fest over the two days. 

The chamber sold more than 10,000 pounds of fresh cranberries and almost 5,000 pounds of dried cranberries at the festival grounds and several locations downtown during the weekend.

Spiess said Cranberry Fest is a popular event with many people who return to the festival each fall to shop in the craft fair featuring about 275 artisans, sample cranberry baked goods and participate in cranberry marsh tours to Lake Nokomis Cranberries Inc. marshes.

Many of the crafters donated items for a live auction Sunday that raised money for scholarships for Northland Pines High School seniors.

Spiess said visitors went on marsh tours Thursday through Sunday, with just over 1,000 taking in the tours.

The festival kicked off Saturday morning with the Berry Bog 5K Jog, which started at 8:30 a.m. at Riverview Park. The fundraising event, sponsored by Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, attracted about 70 runners and walkers on a cloudy, dreary morning, according to Cheryl Hogenmiller, run coordinator.

“Even with gloomy skies, the fall colors were just spectacular for the runners and walkers,” said Hogenmiller. “The park along the river was the perfect setting for the start and finish of the race.”

Bakery sales in the food tent were brisk, according to Jacki Risjord, who coordinated the bakery tent. She said almost all the cranberry baked goods sold out by 3 p.m. Saturday.

“We sold 7,218 bakery items, including cranberry cheesecake and cranberry fritters,” said Risjord. “In comparison, last year we still had some items remaining late on Sunday.”

Volunteers vital

Spiess said that the service organizations that operated the various food stands kept busy during the weekend, adding that the fest wouldn’t be possible without the more than 400 volunteers.

“The volunteers were great all weekend,” she said. “We had plenty of volunteers, including a lot from the school and community groups.”

Spiess said several organizations raised money during Cranberry Fest, including the Eagle River Rotary Club and the Greater Eagle River Tennis Association in the food tent and the Eagle River Lions Club parking cars.

Other activities

There were also activities in downtown Eagle River Saturday, including an an­tiques sale on Wall Street, a farmers market on Main Street, and a fiber arts and weaving exhibit and luncheon at First Congregational United Church of Christ. Activities were also held at Olson Memorial Library.

A?new event was the Cranberry Crush Casino Night and Music Fundraiser held at Trees For Tomorrow in Eagle River Saturday night. The event included a casino night with hors d’oeuvres, wine and local beer available for guests as they spun the roulette wheel, threw some dice, or tried their hand at poker. The evening continued under the big top in the campus oval with live music and dancing to Miles Over Mountains, a progressive bluegrass band based in McHenry, Ill. 

Traffic control

Spiess said the Eagle River Police Department provided assistance with traffic control throughout the weekend and did its best to keep vehicles moving through the city.

“We had a one-way on Park Street leading into the fairgrounds and parking areas and then vehicles exited on West Wall Street, where there were police officers at the stoplight,” said Spiess. “The police department really did a good job throughout the weekend.”

Spiess said there were a couple of traffic flow problems in the middle of the day when the parking lots filled up.

“We will be meeting with the police department in a couple of weeks to discuss some of the issues and possible remedies,” said Spiess. “There were just more people and vehicles than we anticipated.”

Spiess said event organizers are already making plans for next year and are always looking for new activities to improve Cranberry Fest, which in 2019 is set for Oct. 5 and 6.