A few short years ago it was in jeopardy of going away. But a small and dedicated group of volunteers stepped forward to keep the annual Cherry Days celebration alive. Last week, the 71st annual Cherry Days celebration went off with nary a hitch.
With more than 50 entries, the July 4 parade was filled with tradition. There were two marching bands: the Clown Band, an entry as old as Cherry Days itself, which judges awarded second place, and the 30-plus member North Fork Community Band, which won the judges' hearts and first place. But nothing was as cute as third-place winner Jayce Simpson, dressed in red, white and blue and a big white cowboy hat and riding his Shetland pony, Cookie.
Paonia Town Park was filled with live music, demonstrations of karate and Middle-Eastern dance, the smells of good food, while vendors pedaled wares from jewelry and clothing to puppets and playthings. The log-splitting and cherry pit-spitting contests drew big crowds, and Miss Jaecey introduced children of all ages to the hula hoop.
Throughout the five days of festivities no major mishaps were reported.
All in all, it was a success, said Cherry Days Committee president Bob Bushta. "We were really pleased with the attendance and the enthusiasm of the crowds."
As always, he added, "We found things we can improve on, but we're really pleased with how things turned out."
One complaint heard most, including on social media, was the lack of a carnival for the kids. "After the carnival contract was lost in 2012, getting another carnival into such a small venue has proven to be a very difficult task," said Bushta. It's unfortunate, he said. "Although we'll keep trying, people need to accept that we may never get a carnival again."
Last year Cherry Days featured an extreme zone for the kids, with a giant water slide, mechanical bull ride and bungee jump, but that resulted in a financial loss. This year, Pueblo-based WOW Attractions offered the committee an opportunity to make a profit. "They enjoyed our event and intend to come back next year with more attractions," said Bushta.
Putting on Cherry Days is always a challenge, but this year the all-volunteer Cherry Days Committee faced the challenge of having Independence Day fall on Tuesday. "We were really concerned," said Bushta. But the community stepped up with events new and old. Among them were the softball and mud volleyball tournaments, which doubled as fundraisers for Paonia High School athletics, the Paonia Museum's ice cream social, and the North Fork Horse Patrol bull and bronc ride. The Paonia Chamber's Downtown Day pulled a big crowd Monday, complete with live music and great food.
While many of the associated events were sponsored by other individuals and organizations, the Cherry Days committee included them in all of the advertising. Because the event has become more than just Cherry Days and has encompassed the entire community, they plan to do the same again next year, said Bushta.
The committee will hold a wrap-up meeting this fall, and begin planning for the 72nd annual Cherry Days festival in January. For updates visit PaoniaCherryDays.com or the Paonia Cherry Days Facebook page. And as always, volunteers are welcome to help with planning for next year's celebration.