A wet winter and a warm spring in the North Fork Valley produced one of the best cherry crops in years, and plenty of the luscious red fruits will be available during the annual Cherry Days celebration in Paonia.
Kris Kropp maintains several different cherry orchards with his family farm, First Fruits Organic Farms. The Kropps have been growing fruit in the North Fork Valley for 35 years.
"It's beautiful country and you can grow just about anything, on most years," Kropp said during a recent tour of seven acres of cherry trees in Valley View, just outside of Paonia.
The Kropps maintain about 30 acres of cherry trees in three different orchards on Pitkin Mesa, off of Mathews Lane and at the farm in Valley View.
Kropp called cherries a volatile but valuable fruit. Cherries in the North Fork Valley are susceptible to winter freezes, spring freezes, too much heat and too much water, all of which can completely ruin a crop.
A severe cold snap wiped out most of the cherry crop last year and all of the fruits at Cherry Days had to be imported.
"Last year everything got cleaned out, it was the worst freeze we've ever had in 35 years," Kropp described. "So we went from the very best crop we've had in 2014, to the worst crop ever in 2015, and now this year is a good one."
Coming over the 4th of July, Cherry Days often arrive too early to enjoy the namesake fruits. That will not be the case this year.
"Usually it's a little too early for a lot of the varieties," Kropp said. "But this year we'll have varieties ready."
Kropp walked the rows of trees at Valley View and pointed out some of the at least 15 different varieties of cherries growing abundantly this year, including Bing, Rainier, Brooks, Benton and Cashmere cherries.
"It's a bumper crop in some areas," Kropp said. "Some of the winter kill has reduced the crop to about half of its potential. A little cold's a good thing. It's just a matter of making that fine line."
Friends and families visiting the North Fork Valley for Cherry Days will have plenty of fruit to sample this year, making for great fun and great fruit.
"It's just such a neat historical time for people to get together," Kropp said. "Sometimes you don't even see people all year until Cherry Days. It's been such a neat tradition for the valley."