By: Sheryl Sowell | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: April 2011
Kate Kelly, tourism director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Council.
The award-winning Red Fern Festival will return April 29-30, 2011 in Norris Park, located at the corner of Muskogee Avenue and Morgan Street in downtown Tahlequah. The fifth annual event will feature hound dog field trials, 1930s-era children’s games and period demonstrations, a car show, a chili and barbecue cook-off, live entertainment and much more!
“We began doing the Red Fern Festival because of the large number of phone calls, letters and walk-ins we received asking about the book ‘Where the Red Fern Grows,’” explains Kate Kelly, tourism director of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Council. “The author, Wilson Rawls, grew up in the Tahlequah area, where the story is set. The book is read in at least fifty percent of schools in the nation, and students, teachers and many others become captivated by the story and want to learn more about where it takes place.”
“Where the Red Fern Grows” is set in rural, Depression-era Oklahoma, and one of Kate’s goals in organizing the festival was to evoke the feeling of a simpler, more innocent time. “It’s a very family-friendly festival, and we provide the activities at no cost.”
The festival kicks off Friday at noon with fern, book and T-shirt sales, arts and crafts, food vendors, and more. “During the spring and fall, the ferns become a beautiful red color, and the Tahlequah Leadership Class sells the ferns as a fundraiser. The Rotary Club will also be on hand selling copies of the book. Plenty of food vendors will be available with old favorites like funnel cakes and corn dogs, as well as unique items such as Greek food, pastries, and homemade root beer.” Live entertainment takes place from 5 p.m. until dark, and then a special screening of the film will be shown in the park.
Entertainment will be provided by headliner Big Smith. This eclectic acoustic band from Springfield, Missouri, mixes hillbilly, rock, gospel, country and blues. Music begins at 5 p.m. Friday and at noon Saturday on the Keetoowah Cherokee Casino Music Stage.
One of the biggest highlights of the festival is the hound dog field trials, held on Saturday morning. Expect to be amazed and delighted by the dexterity and intelligence of these working hounds as they follow scents. “These dogs are true athletes. It is fascinating to watch all the different kinds of hounds competing,” says Kate, who emphasizes that no raccoons are harmed. “This is something you won’t want to miss. It’s an indescribable experience to hear all the hounds baying at once and to see their amazing talents.” Registration begins at 10 a.m., and the trials begin at 11.
Children’s old-fashioned games and activities will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., including sack races, tug of war, marbles, and arts and crafts. “We’ll also have a crawdad hole with lots of hand-caught, free range crawdads. The kids absolutely love it!” Visit the crawdad hole from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then stick around for the “Tahlequack” duck race beginning at 2.
A favorite of many festival-goers, the Red Fern Chili Cook-off & Barbecue Extravaganza will offer crowd-pleasing barbecue and chili. Taster kits will be on sale for $5, and everyone can vote on their favorites.
The 5 C’s Car, Truck & Motorcycle Show will be held Saturday in Cherokee Square. Registration is from 8 a.m. to noon, and trophies will be presented at 3. Stroll through and admire the incredible vintage vehicles on display, and enjoy the car cruise happening at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday’s lineup also includes the Red Fern “Run for Homes” 5K Race and one-mile Dog Jog/Fun Run, and the Tahlequah Young Professionals’ Red Fern Poker Run. The 5K race begins at 7:30 a.m., and the fun run is 7:45. Registration for the poker run is from 10 a.m. to noon, and the last bike in is at 5 p.m.
This year’s festival will include a very special event in the Carnegie Library of Tahlequah Public Library, where Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) will honor Tahlequah with the tenth Oklahoma Literary Landmark Site Dedication honoring Wilson Rawls. “Other Oklahoma authors to receive this honor include Will Rogers, Angie Debo and Woody Guthrie. We are extremely proud to have our native Tahlequah son join this distinguished group,” says Kate. The dedication begins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Red Fern Festival has received numerous accolades, including the prestigious RedBud Award for Outstanding New Event in 2008. This year’s festival will be April 29 from noon to 9 p.m. and April 30 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information about attending or participating in events, visit www.RedFernFestival.com, or call (918) 456-3742.
Sheryl Sowell was born and raised in Tulsa, OK. She graduated from Will Rogers High School and received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Northeastern State University in 2007. She has worked for Value News as editor, writer and advertising copywriter since 2008. She enjoys meeting and interviewing people for Value News articles, learning about their backgrounds, and helping to promote their businesses and local events. In her free time, she enjoys reading, trying new recipes and crafts from Pinterest, attending concerts and sporting events, and spending time with family and friends. Sheryl lives in Tulsa with her fiancé Paul, their daughter Scarlett, and their two dogs, Gunner and Boo.