2014-10-02 / Around Town

Forty Years of Fall Festival Fun

By Olga Enger


Festival goers about to get down and dirty in the mud pit. Festival goers about to get down and dirty in the mud pit. Growing up, my mother cooked crepes every Sunday, just as her mother prepared when she was a child. To share my childhood memories with my son, I continue the Sunday tradition for my own family.

My husband will have a similar opportunity to share his childhood memories with us at an event that has remained remarkably unchanged since he was a child. This weekend, Oct. 4 and 5, the 40th Harvest Fair at the Norman Bird Sanctuary will offer a timeless fall festival with games, food, music, artisans and garden contests where residents compete for everything from the best apple pie to the best sunflower.

An article from Newport This Week dated Sept. 17, 1976 described a greased pole climb, mud pit log fights, artisans, food vendors, live music and growers' contests – all of which are part of the fair today.

“The fair surprisingly has remained the same,” explained Isabel Burnham, development assistant with Norman Bird Sanctuary.

This will be Burnham’s first year as staff, but she has plenty of firsthand knowledge of the event.

“I remember participating in the mud pit fight when I was in middle school,” said Burnham. “Everything was the same. It really hasn’t changed over the years.”

Forty years ago, Portsmouth resident Pat Hegnauer approached the sanctuary director at the time, Lee Gardner, with the harvest fair concept. Today’s fair is indistinguishable from her initial vision of a large festival full of time-tested games and wholesome fun.

“People love all these games and really respond to it,” Hegnauer told Newport this Week in the 1976 article. “They don’t usually have a chance to do things like this, to let themselves go.”

This year’s event is even bringing back a component that disappeared over the years – a beer garden sponsored by Pour Judgement.

“The fair truly is for all ages,” said Burnham.

Although the flavor of the fair remains the same, it requires extensive planning every year. Approximately 350 volunteers are required to organize and run the event.

“The volunteers are the lifeline of what makes the fair possible,” said Burnham. “There is no way we could do it without them.”

To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the sanctuary is throwing a “Saturday Night Shindig” on Saturday,

Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. with live music, beer and dancing.

If you are unable to make the Harvest Fair, there are other opportunities to enjoy the Norman Bird Sanctuary with your family this fall.

Burnham recommended that families of young children attend a pre-K story time and guided hikes for older children.

“During story time, a staff member will read a book and bring out an animal that complements the book, like a snake or a bunny,” said Burnham. For older children and families, the guided hikes are an opportunity to use the trails and learn about natural history and animal signs.

Both events are free of charge but registration is required.

Just as the women in my family preserved the recipe and ritual of Sunday crepes, the Norman Bird Sanctuary provides a unique opportunity to pass down memories or build new family traditions. If we continue to support the sanctuary, my son will someday bring his own family to the Harvest Fair to climb the greased pole and fight over a mud pit.

Harvest Fair Prices:

$6 adults, $3 children between
ages 3-12, children under 3 free.
Shindig tickets are $40 and require an RSVP.

Other NBS Activities

Pre-k story time: Oct. 2, 16, 30
and Nov. 13, 10:30 – 11:15 a.m.
Public guided hikes: Oct. 11, 25
and Nov. 8 & 22,10:30 -11:30 a.m.

normanbirdsanctuary.org 401-846-2577

Return to top