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Huntertown refocuses Heritage Days on community

Organizers move away from carnival to be more about small town

Performers with Cincinnati Circus will be at Huntertown Heritage Days.

Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 3, 2022

What do you do when you are dealt two years of setbacks as you try to celebrate your community? If you are the organizers of Huntertown Heritage Days, you dig deep, figure it out, and “git ’r done.”

That’s what you’ll see Aug. 12-14 at Huntertown Park, just off Old Lima Road. The three-day festival is a tribute to resilience, hard work and, of course, problem-solving.

Necessary changes

With amusement ride companies increasing their fees, even doubling them in some cases, the festival organizers have moved away from the typical attraction to a summer fair. 

“We’ve restructured the festival and moved everything to the park,” said Malari Russell, president of the organizing committee.

Since they’ve committed to keeping it a free or low-cost event, they took a risk. They went outside the box and are trying a fresh approach.

There’s a hard balance between fun and affordable, Russell said.

“Carnival rides have always been very expensive,” she said. “Because we had to make the money to pay for that part of the carnival, people have had concerns about pricing for things in the past. We just really wanted people not to have to be concerned about that. So anybody can come and enjoy the events that we have. And it’s family-friendly for all ages.”

What they have now, Russell optimistically notes, is a community event that builds pride, but it is free to attendees, by careful design.

Gone is the carnival for the immediate future. Instead, they’ll host the one-ring Cincinnati Circus company. The traveling act will perform multiple daily shows throughout the three days.

The stunt wheel (aka the ominous wheel of death) will tower overhead. Performers will wrangle fire and do acrobatics for just under an hour. It’s like a regular circus, just smaller. There are no dancing bears, bike-riding monkeys, big cats, or elephants. No human bullets shot from cannons either, if you were asking.

“We don’t use animals,” Russell said. “We decided against having any kind of animals at the festival.

“They do have a trapeze. We’re hoping that the circus is a big hit so we can expand it.”

She admits that after COVID canceled the event in 2020, issues with a previous festival left a lot to be desired, and they had to get creative. That meant taking a bold step of faith to find out what they wanted to be and how to make that happen.

“We learned from last year that we needed to make changes, whether it was scary or not, and it definitely is scary,” Russell said. 

“We’re hoping everything goes great this year. We have a better hold on everything. It feels good. But you know, there’s new people coming in. There’s still people that were from the very beginning who don’t very much like change, but we felt it was necessary for this year.”

Fair food and fun

Of course, there is fair food. Local BBQ standard Timmy’s BBQ will offer its fan favorites, including pizza and grilled delights. It is also catering the required food to make it a fair.

Russell said all of the classic food will be there. 

“The elephant ears and the lemon shake-ups and cotton candy, kettle corn, pork tenderloin, stuff like that.” 

She also said that Timmy’s has some unique variations on classic foods. 

She mentioned her personal favorite is “Timmy’s rib-tip. The barbecue rib tips. They are slow-cooked. They are amazing.”

Music and entertainment have received special attention this year.

Big Daddy Caddy will return for the first time since 2019. They will perform Friday night in the beer tent at the park. 

Russell says they are hugely popular, playing a wild assortment that includes ’90s, country, and pop. It’s a recipe that’s played out well at previous Heritage Days.

“They draw our biggest crowds,” she said. “They’re very good, they’re fun, they do an assortment of music. So it’s really good for any type of people to come and listen.”

That same night, a few blocks away is a free showing of The Sandlot. Organizers will show the film at the elementary school on a 30-foot movie screen set up on the lawn. 

Saturday morning includes a 5k run, the Allen County Marketplace from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and the parade at 11 a.m. 

At noon is the car show, drawing more than 200 cars at last year’s event. 

In the evening, music in the beer tent will be handled by DJ Farlow with karaoke. 

Sunday will feature three circus performances and bingo plus the Soarin’ Hawk Raptor show. The show is an educational demonstration by the Hawk Rehabilitation Center, featuring injured and orphaned birds of prey from the region that were nursed back to health by the organization.

Fostering community

This festival is built around the uniqueness of Huntertown, the people, the attitude, and the unity. 

Russell says it’s about enjoying that Huntertown is not Fort Wayne or Auburn or even Churubusco or Garrett. It’s a special place all its own.

“We have so many small businesses that participate. We try to get everything as local as possible,” she said. “Do Huntertown. So all these businesses that participate, they get their name out there, they get the business from it. It’s just a celebration, we’re a very small festival. And all of us members, we try to do our fair share.

“We’re trying to get more people that don’t really see the middle of Huntertown to know that the park is there and that, you know, we have events there. And we have a lot of great small businesses I feel are overlooked a lot.”

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