Some communities celebrate the fall season with a German food and beer event, or a children’s costume contest, or a concert. But few, if any, combine all three activities (and more) like Windsor Heights, which will host its annual Oktoberfest on Saturday, Oct. 6 in Colby Park.
Organized by the City of Windsor Heights, the free, family-friendly event will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. and will include a multitude of entertainment designed to appeal to residents and visitors of all ages. Among its attractions are children’s activities such as inflatables, a mini railroad, pony rides and a costume contest, as well as live polka music, artwork and German beer aimed at the older sect, not to mention German food, hula hoops, and pet costume and pumpkin carving contests that are sure to appeal to fans of all ages.
“It’s a combination of Octoberfest and Halloween,” says Tracy Levine, parks and special events coordinator for the City of Windsor Heights. “I think of it as the premium fall festival for families. We bring in a lot of activities, and it’s a great event. We want to welcome people not only from Windsor Heights but from the whole area to bring their families and friends to Colby Park.”
Oktoberfest, which took its name in 2005, but got its start as the “Fall Festival” in 2001 in Windsor Heights, offers a few new attractions this year including free pony rides and a mini railroad.
“There will be two or three ponies in the park to ride, as well as a miniature pony for people to see. The people who handle the ponies will accompany each rider. They love their horses, and they wanted to share them with the public,” says Levine.
Harold Drake will organize a mini railroad that includes nine cars designed to transport children on a short ride that extends from the parking lot in Colby Park to the nearby bike trail and back. The train runs from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Colby Park.
“That’s something we wanted to add this year after seeing him at the downtown Des Moines Farmers Market. The rides are free, and the kids will enjoy it,” Levine says.
Other activities geared toward children include a handful of inflatable rides that are open from 2 to 6 p.m. in which tickets that sell for $1 each are required (the only activity that is not free, other than eating and drinking) and balloon animals that are available from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
“Kids love inflatables, so we had to bring those back,” Levine says, “and the Windsor Heights Chamber is supporting Jonathan May who will be making the animal balloons, which are also a lot of fun.”
The most popular children event, organizers say, might be the costume contest to be held at 2:30 p.m. Levine encourages parents to join their children in donning their favorite costume. Prizes to the child with the scariest, most humorous and best theme will be awarded in each category. The contest is sponsored by the volunteer Windsor Heights Neighborhood Watch group.
“It’s open to kids of all ages, and a lot of kids go out of their way to win the prizes,” says Levine. “They will be judged on things like creativity, theme and overall effect. The contest keeps growing, and this year we encourage adults to wear their costumes, too.”
Kids are not the only ones who can enter a contest to show off their favorite costume. So, too, can pets for a contest of their own to be held at 3 p.m.
“Most people bring their dog, but it is open to all pets. Some of the costumes are hysterical, and we’ve had a lot of fun with the contest over the years,” Levine says. “The Windsor Heights Lions Club will be sponsoring the event and giving out prizes to the winners.”
Plenty of family events can also be found at Oktoberfest, including the traditional pumpkin carving contest open to the first 40 or so teams who sign up to compete on a first-come, first-serve basis from 2 – 4 p.m.
“We will be giving away about 40 pumpkins while supplies last,” Levine says. “People can sit here and carve a pumpkin for a certain category that they want to enter, whether it is for the scariest pumpkin or the most beautiful pumpkin. Sometimes people will organize teams, and there is almost always a child on each team. It’s a great family event or a way to get friends together.”
Of course, what Oktoberfest would be complete without brats, sausages and sauerkraut? Or German beer? Or polka music?
Food and beer will be sold from 2 – 6 p.m. as will funnel cakes and other foods. The Windsor Heights Police Association will serve the food, and the city will serve the beer, organizers say.
To add to the festive atmosphere, Levine has hired an award-winning polka band from Des Moines known simply as the Polka Club Band to entertain visitors. The group includes two women and two men who play accordions, tuba and drums. They will perform from 3 – 6 p.m.
“The band will also bring dancers who will give people lessons on how to dance to polka music. I’m looking forward to seeing them perform,” Levine says.
Abe Goldstien, a member of the Des Moines-based klezmer jazz band Java Jews, who performed this summer at Colby Park for the annual music series, will also be strolling the grounds at the park while playing his accordion.
In addition to live music, Oktoberfest will offer fans hands-on workshops, like face painting and mask making, as well as an art and fresh produce show. Artists and food growers who would like to participate in the event are encouraged to contact Levine at email@example.com or call 645-6821.
“It’s an open call, so the more the merrier,” she says.
The winners of the day’s contests will be announced during a presentation at 4 p.m. followed by a hula hoop event that closes out the day’s festivities from 4 – 6 p.m.
“Mary Boyvey of the Sparkle company will lead the hula hoop event. People can borrow one from her or buy one. She’s amazing and she will definitely get the crowd going,” says Levine.
Organizers say that their goal is to steadily increase the attendance at Oktoberfest each year and to showcase the community’s amenities, including those in Colby Park like the new Community Center, trail, playground and concert pavilion.
“Adding those things to Colby Park has helped to boost attendance at our events,” Levine says. “They are on everyone’s radar and they have helped to raise the visibility of Windsor Heights, making it more of a destination.
“The goal is to bring people to Colby Park, which is a beautiful park and offers plenty of free parking.”
Levine says that she also wants local residents to embrace Oktoberfest as an event that is truly their own.
“There’s a lot going on, but it has a community feel to it, and it is accessible to everyone,” she says. “It’s going to be a fun day.”