Warner kicks off annual Fall Foliage Festival with a new venue
Bob Shoemaker fastens the sign listing all the people that helped bring the amphitheater, left, to Jim Mitchell Park in Warner on October 11, 2013 as the town prepares for the Warner Fall Foliage Festival. Shoemaker is a carpenter and one of the people that helped build the structure which will host their inaugural acts during the festival.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Dave Connors and Tammy Mock, volunteers for the Warner Fall Foliage Festival, start preparing things inside the tent where lobster will be served on Thursday afternoon, October 11, 2013.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Wonderful – that’s what Katharine Nevins kept repeating yesterday before the start of the Warner Fall Foliage Festival today. It’s also what she thinks her brother Jim Mitchell, who died in 2008, would have been saying about the park inspired by his legacy and its amphitheater opening tonight for this year’s festival.
The Warner Fall Foliage Festival kicks off tonight with the first live music to perform in the newly constructed amphitheater at Jim Mitchell Community Park, as well as rides and an oxen competition near the Warner River. Mitchell designed the park before his death, and the amphitheater is the final piece of a five-year project to build this large community space for the town.
Nevins said her brother, who was a longtime Boston radio personality, was always repeating the phrase, “Something wonderful is happening in Warner.” Those words are inscribed on the ground in the park, where visitors to the festival will walk this weekend.
Mitchell had been involved in planning the Fall Foliage Festival for many years, Nevins said, and he would be pleased to see the park he
designed finally completed to become a focal point for festival activities.
“It’s hard to not keep using the word ‘wonderful.’ . . . This is everything he had ever dreamed of,” Nevins said.
While live music has traditionally been part of the festival, the amphitheater constructed this summer will be the main stage for this weekend’s performances. MainStreet Warner Inc., the nonprofit organization founded by Mitchell and others in 2000, raised nearly $200,000 to build the Jim Mitchell Community Park and the amphitheater. Part of the funds for the park, which was completed in 2010, and the amphitheater came from a $20,000 matching grant from the Fall Foliage Festival itself.
The park and amphitheater are located behind MainStreet BookEnds, which was also founded by Mitchell, his sister and her husband. Now, Nevins said she was excited the festival would be able to use the fruits of its own grant this weekend.
“Thanks to the Fall Foliage Festival kicking this project financially off, we’re able to now return it to the festival,” Nevins said. “This is an example of what this festival does for the community. The whole town works very hard all year-round on the festival, and the money goes back (to the town).”
In addition to the new amphitheater, Sean Bohman, president of the festival board, said visitors should expect some changes in the festival layout.
The oxen pulling, woodsmen’s competition, lobster and chicken food tents, and children’s rides have all traditionally been hosted on the Simonds Elementary School field – until this year. But school officials wanted to improve the field’s condition because it was often too dusty or too muddy for the children to use safely, and the festival was moved to a new location.
The events hosted at the field in the past will now be hosted near the river and Warner Power on Depot Street.
When moving these events was proposed last year, some townspeople reacted negatively to the idea of changing any part of the 66-year-old festival. But Bohman said the new spot on Depot Street near the river was a better venue, and most angst in town about the move has turned to excitement.
“We’re getting serviced up some lemons with the school deal, but it turns out we’ve got a good batch of lemonade out of it,” Bohman said.
Parking will change this weekend as well, because visitors used to park at the Warner Power grounds that will now host festival events. Bohman said other parking lots will be available as visitors come off Interstate 89, and shuttle buses will be running from those lots into the festival. More information about parking, as well as a map and schedule for the festival, can be found at wfff.org.
Town Administrator Jim Bingham said the new venue would keep events close together and preserve the traditional spirit of the festival.
“It really is a real plus for the town, because we’re able to raise funds to host activities and other events throughout the year because of this festival,” he said.
With a mostly sunny weather forecast on the town’s side, Bingham said the festival would be “a classic autumn weekend, high 60s, low 70s, lots of color and a lot to do.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)