Festivals Reveal the History of a Community


    By Debra Skaggs

    Every year, American Fork gears up for Steel Days, Payson has Onion Days and Pleasant Grove celebrates Strawberry Days, all commemorating commercial enterprises that no longer happen in Utah County.

    But the communities don”t care.

    “Last year the [American Fork] city council considered changing the name, since Geneva [Steel plant] no longer exists,” said Shauna Thomas, a Steel days volunteer and liaison for American Fork city officials. “But they decided to keep it because of the history. It”s a kind of tradition. Pleasant Grove has Strawberry Days, and they don”t grow strawberries anymore. Payson has Onion Days, and they don”t grow onions.”

    The Steel Days tradition goes deep for Thomas. She has been involved in the celebration most of her life. Her father was treasurer for the celebration as far back as she can remember. He was also an employee of the now defunct and dismantled Geneva Steel that prompted the city to call the celebration Steel Days.

    It”s all part of the summer festival that almost every community in Utah throws every year. Some have already passed this summer, but many more communities are still make preparation for the events. Steel Days activities are going on now.

    American Fork Steel Days has dozens of activities to choose from, including parades, art shows, carnival rides, and baby contests. A horseshoe competition and skateboard competition are also featured. The highlight of the event is the Picnic in the Park at Art Dye Park.

    “People can come and bring their lunch or buy food and then stay and watch a movie,” Thomas said.

    Salem has a weeklong festival in August with a long list of events planned. Kickball, golf, baby contest, tractor pull, softball and fun runs are just a few.

    “Mud volleyball is the highlight,” said Nadene Cope, Salem Day”s Co-Chairman. “The fire department fills up a couple pits with water and its just icky, sticky mud. The kids love it.”

    Salem Days” themes are different each year. This year it”s “Salem, our little ”peace” of America.”

    “We try to keep the small town feel,” Cope said. “Fun little parade, duct tape and cardboard boats on the pond, crafts and quilts, just small town stuff.”

    The festival closes with a pageant every year. It is typically a variety show with a story told through comedy, music and dance.

    “You don”t have to have talent to be in our show,” Cope said. “It”s just fun to see neighbors, bishops and city councilmen get up there and be silly.”

    The pageant is followed by a fireworks display. An estimated 14,000 people attend the closing event each year.

    Mud is also a highlight for Payson”s Onion Days celebration. This year the Peteetneet Academy will be sponsoring the annual Mud Dig, a car race through large mud pits. This year”s race will help raise money for a needed elevator in the Historic Peteetneet Museum.

    Onion Days is on Labor Day weekend and is kicked off Friday night at the high school football game, followed by a fireworks display. The main city park is the site of carnival rides, entertainment and more than 70 craft and food vendors.

    Of course, onions are a part of the festivities. “One time, many years ago, Payson farmed a lot of onions,” said Debbie Bushnell, Payson city festival coordinator. “We honor our history by bringing that into some of our celebration. Several food vendors will feature onion specialties in their menus.”

    Spanish Fork Fiesta Days will include tennis and softball tournaments, baby contests, sidewalk sales, a talent show, a livestock parade and the Ninth Annual Flag Retirement Ceremony with a tribute to the armed forces. A 21-gun salute is featured, along with an Apache helicopter fly-over, at this patriotic event. There”s also a rodeo.

    The town of Mapleton is just getting started with its annual festival. Last year a resident donated a firework display for a July 24 picnic. The attendance was encouraging, so an even bigger event is planned this year with a larger firework display, a parade, crafts, breakfast and orchestra concert in Mapleton City Park.

    The feeling of community is strong for Thomas. She said that one of the main purposes of the festivals is to bring people together. “As people move into American Fork, Steel Days activities help them feel more a part of us, and they can understand our traditions,” Thomas said. “Then everyone can feel like they belong.”

    Upcoming Community Festivals:

    American Fork: Steel Days – July 9-14, 19-21

    Spanish Fork: Fiesta Days – July 9-20

    Mapleton: Pioneer Day – July 24

    Salem: Salem Days – Aug. 3-11

    Santaquin: Santaquin Orchard Days – Aug. 3-4

    Payson: Onion Days – Aug. 31, Sept. 1-3

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