Old-timers will recall that, once upon a time, things used to slow down in Clear Lake after Labor Day.
“Vacancy” signs went up. A hush went over downtown as the tourists left, and the long wait would begin for springtime and the dollars that flow to local businesses when the “tourists” return.
Toss on a sweater, call early to reserve a favorite table, and grab your best parking space early, because autumn in Clear Lake is nothing like it used to be. October has become a favorite time of year for Clear Lake area residents to enjoy their own community and for visitors to flock in for a fall fling of fun that continues all month long.
Kicking off the season on Saturday, Oct. 5 is the Clear Lake Harvest Festival. Now in its ninth year, the festival has grown into even more than organizers could have hoped for that first year.
“It’s turned in to quite an event for the fall season in Clear Lake,” says Al Ashland, who chairs the annual event for the Chamber of Commerce.
Thousands of visitors have packed onto Main Avenue for the Harvest Festival in the last few years to join in the fun that ranges from pumpkin rolling to wine tasting — and plenty of shopping in between.
Harvest Festival brings attention to the fact that it’s not just corn and soybeans in Iowa anymore, as grape vineyards — which had been commonplace until the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 — have taken root again across the state.
This year, 13 Iowa wineries and two distributors will participate in the wine tasting event. Visitors can purchase a bag, which includes a wine glass and tickets to stop in at the different locations and sample the wines and/or beers being served up. The bags have been an enormously popular part of the event.
“We sell 1,000 bags every year, and we’ve sold out every year,” Ashland says.
Participating wineries includes Glazers, Eagle City Winery, Johnson Brothers, Bel-Aire Estates Winery, Worth Brewing Company, Old Bank Winery, The Train Wreck Winery, Englebrecht Family Winery, Prairie Moon Winery, Rosey Acres Winery, Van Wink Winery, and TownsEnd Winery, as well as Kabrick Distributing and United Beverage.
But while the wine is a very popular part of Harvest Festival, Ashland notes that there’s also a lot of old-fashioned fun served up for the entire family.
“The grape stomp is a lot of fun, and we always get a wide range of people to participate,” Ashland says.
While it’s not pure “Lucy and Ethel” action, the grape stomp is good, juicy fun. Working in teams of two, one person stomps while the second person works to push the pulp through a spigot. The team with the greatest volume, by weight, pushed through the spigot wins.
Another popular contest is the Waiter Race in which contestants run through an obstacle course while balancing three glasses of water on a tray. And, for those who just want to keep it simple, there’s also an old fashioned pumpkin roll. Made up of teams of four, and conducted in relay fashion, the pumpkin roll is nearly as simple as it sounds, but it’s never boring.
“Pumpkins don’t always roll straight!” Ashland advises with a grin.
In addition to the games, there will also be a homemade salsa contest, and attendees will be able to dip a chip and vote for their favorites. And for even more taste of the fall season, there will be a huge farmers market downtown.
Throughout the festival, downtown shops will be open, with many of them — including the Lady of the Lake, V.F.W. and Clear Lake Yacht Club — hosting the wine tastings. A full list of locations is included in the bags, available from the Chamber of Commerce. (The bags are required for beverage sampling.)
More than 50 vendors have also signed up to help fill the streets with specialty items. Selections will include arts and crafts, pottery, jewelry and a huge selection of food items. A variety of entertainment options will also be playing throughout the afternoon.
“We’re changing gears a little music-wise and bringing a classic rock band to Main Avenue,” Ashland notes, adding to the regular jazz features.
Bands slated to perform include Crossfire, Spenser Rahm, Last Minute Combo, Nova Jazz and Easy Listening.
Finally, Harvest Festival this year will again feature trolley rides to view fall colors throughout the community. The rides are approximately one hour long and will feature historical information about the city as trolley riders traverse the city streets and enjoy the changing of the season.
Studio Tours open for Harvest Festival
Coinciding with the Harvest Festival again this year is the annual Artisans Studio Tour sponsored by the Clear Lake Arts Center. At least 13 artists will be featured along the nine-stop tour in Clear Lake and around North Iowa.
But while Harvest Festival runs on Saturday, Oct. 5, the Artisans Studio Tour this year is branching out to encompass three days of opportunities to visit area artists in their own workspaces. The tour will run from 4 – 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5; and 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6.
“And it’s all free,” says artist Sally Rasmussen, with all the typical bubble in her voice. “That’s something that people don’t always realize. You don’t have to pay go on the tour!’
Again this year, Rasmussen will open her own “Fun House,” as she calls the home uniquely designed with her art studio prominently situated at the front of the house. Nearby, kitchen and living areas blend seamlessly into one very open and inviting space.
But while the home is fun to see, the real purpose of the tour is for guests to visit area artists where they work. Artists will also have a variety of pieces available for purchase so that tour-goers can bring home a piece of Iowa art.
In addition to Rasmussen, artists featured on the tour will include Richard Leet, Ann Bishop McGregor, Rebecca Elias, Margie Kline, Emily Kiewel, Chris White-Rozendaal, Bill Mateer, Craig Kienast, Sandra Quintus, Meagan Steinberg, Peggy Cornick and John Larsen.
As always, the first stop is the Clear Lake Arts Center, where maps and more information will be available to help lead folks along the way.
A good haunting
While Harvest Festival and the Artisans Studio Tour wrap up the first weekend of October, the fun keeps going all month long at D & D Ranch with the annual Haunted Hike.
Situated in a 1888 ranch and “saloon town” setting, the Haunted Hike and its outbuildings have to be experienced to be believed.
“There’s more than 200 haunts in Iowa, and we’ve been rated in the top five” says owner Dale Anderson.
And for good reason. Depending on group size, the hike can take 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and even at that there’s plenty that participants are likely to miss the first time through.
While we don’t want to spoil the haunt, expect a few familiar faces among the dead as visitors walk through the buildings. Some of the “questionable characters” and haunters come from classic TV shows and scary movies.
Suffice it to say there are horses and hearses, Freddie and every other scary character to ever take to the silver screen.
For his part, Anderson does enjoy “giving it away,” as proceeds from the Haunted Hike help support local charities.
Haunting dates for this year are set for three weekends: Oct. 11 – 12, 18 – 19 and 25 – 26. Hours will be 7 – 11 p.m.
On Halloween night, Thursday, Oct. 31, the Haunted Hike will run from 7 – 9 p.m.
D and D Ranch is located at 2532 South Shore Drive, and visitors are welcome — dead or alive.
Clearly, from the Harvest Festival, to the Studio Tour, to the Haunted Hike, autumn brings an abundance of fun and special activities to Clear Lake. If there is a “slow season” anymore, this isn’t it.
“Come on out,” urges Anderson from a dark and scary corner at the Haunted Hike. There is always fun to be had in this waning season of the year for those who take advantage of the special activities planned throughout the community.