Cranberry Fest shoppers had to put up with some wet, gloomy conditions at the Vilas County Fairgrounds Saturday, but the sun returned on Sunday.
Cranberry Fest shoppers had to put up with some wet, gloomy conditions at the Vilas County Fairgrounds Saturday, but the sun returned on Sunday.
Despite rain showers during festival hours Saturday, thousands of people still came to the Eagle River area for the popular event that salutes a tiny red berry.

Kim Emerson, executive director for the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, said tens of thousands of people walked through the gates of the Vilas County Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday for the 40th annual Cranberry Fest.

“We had some rain on Saturday, but it was a successful Cranberry Fest weekend,” said Emerson on Monday. “People still came and vendors I talked to said they still had a good day.”

Because of that rain on Saturday, Emerson said crowds were larger than normal on Sunday, when sunny skies returned to the North Woods.

“It rained Saturday, but overall it was a great day,” said Emerson. “Because of the rain, we had the vendors carry everything into the fairgrounds Friday to protect the grounds. So we had a lot less mud this year and only had to place straw in a few places.”

Emerson said the chamber expected as many as 40,000 people to attend the fest over the two days, but that number likely wasn’t reached due to the rain.

“We still sold close to 8,000 pounds of fresh cranberries and almost 6,000 pounds of dried cranberries at the festival grounds and several locations downtown during the weekend,” said Emerson.

Emerson said Cranberry Fest is a popular event with many people who return to the festival each fall to shop in the craft fair featuring nearly 300 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.

Emerson said visitors went on marsh tours Thursday through Sunday, with 732 people taking part in the tours.

“We had to cancel a few tours on Sunday because they could not get bus drivers,” said Emerson.

The festival kicked off Saturday morning with the Berry Bog 5K Jog, which started at 8:30 a.m. at Riverview Park just as the rain started.

The fundraising event, sponsored by Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, attracted about 75 runners and walkers on the dreary, drizzly morning, according to Cheryl Hogenmiller, run coordinator.

“Even with the light rain, 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.”

And because of the rain, bakery sales in the food tent were brisk, according to Jacki Risjord, who coordinated the bakery tent. 

“We sold 6,200 pieces of bakery items, and some of those were whole kringles and cakes,” said Risjord. “We also sold 360 loaves of bread.”

Volunteers vital

Emerson 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 200 volunteers.

“The people who volunteered at the fest were spectacular,” she said. “We were down a little bit, but people stepped up by taking longer shifts. Everything worked out great.”

Emerson 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.

“I just really want to thank the volunteers who showed up,” said Emerson. “We couldn’t put on an event of this size without them.”

Other activities

There were also activities in downtown Eagle River on 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.

“We had several new tents on the fairgrounds and they were well-used on Saturday due to the rain,” said Emerson. “The beer and wine tent was very popular, the souvenir tent went over very well and the information/headquarters tent worked out well.”

Emerson 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.

“There was 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 manning the stoplight,” said Emerson. 

Emerson said event organizers are already making plans for next year and are always looking for new activities to improve Cranberry Fest, which in 2020 is set for Oct. 3 and 4.