Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

January 25, 2012

Red Fern adds third day for 2012

The popular spring festival is slated for April 27-29.

TAHLEQUAH — This year, visitors to Tahlequah’s Red Fern Festival will have more time to enjoy themselves.

Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Kate Kelly said a third day will be added to the annual celebration, which is slated for Friday through Sunday, April 27-29.

“We’ll have arts and crafts and food vendors in Norris Park on Sunday,” Kelly said. “We thought it might give the church folks a chance to come down to look around and eat. I’ve been getting contact from vendors who have heard about our festival from other vendors. Red Fern has a very good word of mouth [system of promotion]. I got a call just today from a man who turns wood into very nice, old-fashioned art.”

The April 27-29 affair held to honor Tahlequah-area native and author Wilson Rawls and his 1961 children’s novel “Where the Red Fern Grows” is in its sixth year, and Kelly said she expects to be showered with Mother Nature’s kindness and increased attendance.

“The weather will be perfect,” she said. “I say that every year. It’s my mantra. We see our attendance grow each year. This will be our sixth festival, and we expect to grow more this year.”

Rain and flooded streams forced cancellation of the crawdad hole last year, but children were still able to play other old-fashioned games at Norris Park. Reiterating a forecast of dry weather, Kelly said kids should anticipate the return of the crawdad hole activity.

“That is so much fun,” she said. “Kids love it, and I see some adults looking wistfully at it. We have wonderful, free-range crawdads courtesy of Ed Fite. We put them in a kiddie pool and we have someone explain biological facts. It’s a catch and release activity. Now the crawdad hole is something that [Where the Red Fern Grows character] Billy Coleman might have done. And that goes for the children’s games, as well. He grew up in the country. He grew up near the river. He probably caught crawdads and probably ate them. We’ve been surprised at its popularity.”

Kelly said she visited other festivals in the region over the past year and approached vendors who reflect the appeal the chamber strives to offer with an invitation to join the novel-inspired event.

“When I see a vendor who has something unique that would be good for our festival, I talk to them,” she said.

“We strive to have high-quality merchandise available as much as we can. I would say 98 percent of our vendors have been with us since the first year of the festival.”

Kelly said the Tahlequah Main Street Association will be scheduling the musical entertainment for this year’s festival.

“We’re very anxious to see what music we’ll have,” she said.

“We  always have some bluegrass and some folk-type music. We also have a variety, too. We’re looking at tweaking a few things this year, and I think everyone will be pleased. The Kiwanis Club does the barbecue and chili cookoff. The forms will be available for that soon, I’m sure. It always brings out the competitiveness in those who participate.”

The highlight of the 2011 festival was the Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) honoring the late Cherokee County author by dedicating Tahlequah as a literary landmark. According to the FOLIO website, okfriends.net, Rawls’ mother was 1/64 Cherokee, and he was born and raised in Cherokee County. An excerpt from his autobiography on the FOLIO website states Rawls “moved out of the hills into the small town of Tahlequah,” where he experienced “one of the biggest days of my life” and discovered libraries.

“That was a wonderful honor for Tahlequah to be designated a literary landmark,” said Kelly.

“There was a very nice ceremony in the Carnegie Room at the public library. There’s a plaque noting that Tahlequah is a literary landmark. It’s a big honor that puts us in the company of Claremore for Will Rogers and Okemah for Woody Guthrie.”

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