DOOR COUNTY – Welcome back, fall festivals.
While some think Door County essentially shuts down after Labor Day like some other northern tourist hot spots, that’s not the case. Instead, the Peninsula continues providing fun and entertainment for residents and visitors with an annual series of weekend festivals presented by local community and business associations into mid-October.
Except for last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations against large crowds of people saw all of these community festivals canceled. Well, all but one-half of one of them.
But they’re back on the schedule this year, and the groups that sponsor the festivals are glad they’re back.
“It’s part of our history,” said Alyssa Rasmusson, marketing and events manager of the Egg Harbor Business Association, which sponsors the very popular Pumpkin Patch weekend festival Oct. 9 and 10. “It’s our main event from the community that people look forward to every year. I think everyone’s just looking forward to getting back to a little bit of normalcy.”
“It’s so funny. It feels like all is new and fresh again after a year off,” said Carly Sarkis, marketing and events director for Destination Sturgeon Bay, which organizes Saturday’s Harvest Fest, Classic Car Show and Street Art Auction. “Even just seeing people with smiling faces again means a lot to us.”
Door County also hosts other noteworthy fall festivals and events, such as the Door County Maritime Museum’s Fall Lighthouse Festival at lighthouses across the county from Oct. 1 to 3. But the festivals listed below are the kind where businesses and community members get involved to offer visitors a variety of entertainment options for all ages before people begin to hunker down for the holidays.
So, here’s a peek at why so many people will be coming to Sturgeon Bay, Baileys Harbor, Egg Harbor and Sister Bay for a weekend.
Sturgeon Bay: Harvest Fest, Classic Car Show and ‘Cherries Jubilee’ Street Art Auction, Sept. 18
Part of Destination Sturgeon Bay’s community fall fest did take place last year — the 20th annual auction of street art that populated the sidewalks of Sturgeon Bay throughout the summer, the real heart of the weekend — and that was done virtually instead of holding it as a live, in-person event as usual.
The auction will remain online this year, too, with a second straight year of 25 artist-decorated and reimagined cherries — ‘Cherries Jubilee’ was the title of the art project — going to the highest bidders at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The auction is being conducted via the Handbid app, which provides notifications on bids; a link is available on the Harvest Fest page at the Destination Sturgeon Bay website.
“(The cherries) are a fan favorite,” Sarkis said. “There was a lot of interest from the artists and a lot of interest from bidders.”
For those who didn’t get a chance to view the Cherries Jubilee on the sidewalks of the city, they’ll move to Martin Park at 3 p.m., and the artists who created them are invited to meet with the public and talk about their work.
And, Harvest Fest’s other familiar and favorite events return to downtown Third Avenue this year to rejoin the cherry art.
One of the most popular is its 15th annual Harvest Festival Car Show, held by the Old Bolts Car Club along South Third Avenue, with more than 100 antique, classic and customized cars expected to be on hand from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with awards presented at 3 p.m. To enter a car in the show or for more information, go to oldboltscarclub.org.
The festival also offers a craft show, food booths, in-store specials, children’s activities and live entertainment. A firkin of a special craft beer from Starboard Brewing will be tapped in front of the North Third Avenue brewpub at noon to also celebrate what was supposed to be the beginning of Oktoberfest in Munich (now canceled because of the pandemic in Germany), with a contest to hold a full stein of beer at arm’s length at 1 p.m.
Harvest Fest runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 18. All events are free to attend. For more information, go to Destination Sturgeon Bay, 36 S. Third Ave.; call 920-743-6246; or visit sturgeonbay.net.
Baileys Harbor: Autumnfest/Pin Ups & Pistons, Sept. 25
Also back after a year off is this lakeshore community festival anchored by a big car and motorcycle show that’s a bit different from other car shows in the area.
That’s because, for a fifth straight time, the Pin Ups & Pistons Photo Shoot is part of the show, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The photo shoot is intended to re-create the artwork seen in old hot rod or vintage car or bike calendars and magazines, with models, often decked out in 1940s-1950s clothes and hair styles, taking pin-up poses for photos in front of and around the machines. The photo shoot will take place during the show, and visitors can meet the models.
Awards will be announced at 3 p.m., with trophies to the top car or cycle in each of 12 classes as well as People’s Choice, Emergency Vehicle, Best in Show and the Louie Oldenburg Best in Show Motorcycle. Cost to enter is $10; registrations are taken in advance or until 11 a.m. at the show.
A different kind of action on the road starts at 8 a.m. with the sixth annual Hey Hey 5K run, named after a favorite saying of the late local character and “Polka King” Freddie Kodanko. The run starts and ends at Door County Brewing Co., and participants get a special Door County Brewing Co. Hey Hey 5K pint glass (with a free first fill-up from the brewery tap room) and a Hey Hey 5K shirt.
Runners can register at the brewery from 6 to 9 p.m. the night before or starting at 7 a.m. before the event. For more information, visit heyhey5k.com or email [email protected]
Also part of Autumnfest are live music by local blues-rock favorites Mighty Mouth starting at 11 a.m., an arts and crafts show and food and beverage stands, both running until 4 p.m. The Baileys Harbor Fire Department hosts an open house until 3 p.m., and the local branch of the Door County Library holds a used book sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The day after, Sept. 26, offers the regularly scheduled farmers’ market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Autumnfest is sponsored by the Baileys Harbor Community Association. Most events take place at or near Kendall Park and Town Hall, at State 57 and County F. For more information, call 920-839-2366 or visit baileysharbor.doorcounty.com or the “Baileys Harbor Autumnfest Pin Ups & Pistons Car Show” Facebook page.
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Egg Harbor: Pumpkin Patch, Oct. 9-10
The entire village becomes a pumpkin patch at this long-running, very popular festival.
Pumpkin Patch is highlighted by seasonal pumpkin and scarecrow displays throughout Egg Harbor the Saturday and Sunday before Columbus Day. Those who view the displays can vote for their favorites online.
This free, family-friendly festival sponsored by the Egg Harbor Business Association offers more for children to do both days than just check out pumpkins, with carnival rides at Egg Harbor Marina and activities, inflatable games, face painting and entertainment at the Kress Pavilion. Adults and families can take in music at Harbor View Park and a juried arts and crafts fair at Nicolet Bank.
Harbor View Park and its spectacular view over the bay of Green Bay also hosts food and beverage stands, including a corn roast at the business association stand, and a bucket raffle the Saturday of the festival only with prizes donated by association members that include overnight stays, golf packages and home decor items. Drawings start at 3:30 p.m. and prizes must be picked up by 4:30 that afternoon or the next day at the village Welcome Center.
Also, for those who don’t want to try to find a parking spot in the village, Horseshoe Bay Farms is sponsoring a free shuttle from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Guests can park by Frank Murphy Park (7119 Bay Shore Drive) and will be dropped off near Harbor View Park. The shuttle will run every half-hour with the last run starting at 5:30 p.m.
For more about Pumpkin Patch, call 920-868-3717 or visit eggharbordoorcounty.org.
Sister Bay: 75th annual Fall Fest, Oct. 15-17
It’s the last festival before Halloween time, the oldest (celebrating its 75th edition this year after last year’s cancellation) and biggest, with an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 visitors come to Fall Fest’s various venues in the village at some point over its three days, according to the sponsoring Sister Bay Advancement Association.
What separates the “Granddaddy” of Door County community festivals from the rest, besides its longevity, are Saturday’s parade; the return of a Derby Race after many years’ absence; and the ping-pong ball drop helping to close out the fest Sunday.
Organizers claim the Fall Fest parade is annually the largest in Door County, with marching bands from some local schools and numerous floats and vehicles. Anyone is welcome to enter the parade, which starts at 11 a.m. and marches along State 42 through downtown, and Louise Howson, coordinator for the Advancement Association, said she hopes and expects most entries will be themed for the 75th anniversary or at least pay homage to it.
The Derby Race at 10 a.m. Sunday has kids ages 7-13 race down the long hill into Sister Bay in gravity-powered Soap Box Derby-style racers they built (presumably with the help of parents or adults). It’s a double-elimination format with trophies going to the winners. Registration is required by Oct. 1 and racer kits can be ordered from soapboxderby.org.
The ping-pong ball drop is just like it sounds. Several thousand ping-pong balls will be launched into the air from downtown rooftops and drop on people’s heads Sunday afternoon, with about 75% of them bearing the name of a local business. Those balls can be taken to the named business and redeemed for a prize.
Other details of the activities are being worked out as of this writing, but family fun, kids’ games, music and local food will be available as always, along with the annual arts and crafts fair with more than 100 artisans on hand. Also taking place are the traditional Sister Bay Lions Club fish boil Friday night and a pancake breakfast Saturday.
For more about Fall Fest, call 920-854-2812 or visit sisterbay.com.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]