Utah’s Summer Festivals Have Long Legacies

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    By Natalie Mitts

    A 4-year-old girl pleads with her mother for a bracelet in downtown Orem”s Summer Fest. A 7-year-old boy dreams of being a cowboy during Pleasant Grove”s rodeo. Families “ooh” and “aah” over fireworks at Provo”s Stadium of Fire.

    These are the moments of Utah Valley”s summer festivals. These are the memories.

    The largest summer festival occurs in Provo. Mayor Lewis Billings said the Freedom Festival started as a small LDS stake event. They organized a parade and each ward made floats. A few years later, it emerged into a community celebration with a city-paid manager. About 11 years ago, a private company took over the festival and its official name became America”s Freedom Festival.

    “It”s become a real family environment,” Billings said. “They [the committee members] are committed to maintaining an incredibly high-quality festival. They would also like to help other communities celebrate … and be aware of freedom.”

    According to The Daily Herald, the first firework celebration in Provo began after World War I. The American Legion wanted to organize the biggest Fourth of July celebration in Utah. They intended to recreate a battle scene from the war, calling the pageant “The Spirit of No Man”s Land.”

    Billings said an earlier version of Stadium of Fire was called “Panorama” and took place by the Richards Building, where the old BYU football field was. Billings said this has always been his favorite part of the festival, as his father was chairman for more than a decade.

    “People are able to celebrate in a very positive manner something that is worthy of celebrating,” Billings said.

    What originally began as Winter Fest emerged into a summer celebration for Orem residents, Mayor Jerry Washburn said.

    “It really gives us an opportunity to bring the community together for a couple of days,” Washburn said.

    Although Orem is growing to a population of 90,000 plus, the event still gives a hometown feel, Washburn said.

    “The Summer Fest gives us an opportunity to still feel like a community,” he said.

    The event, which took place June 8 to 9, included many chances for volunteers to help out.

    “The benefit is providing activities, which become a tradition for families,” he said. “It builds a community spirit.”

    The family involvement is Washburn”s favorite part, he said, and he enjoys strolling through exhibits and watching the fireworks with his grandchildren.

    Washburn said the city plans to continue the event, but they always welcome public input.

    “Our goal is to maintain but be open to ways we can improve,” he said.

    Pleasant Grove”s Strawberry Days is the longest, continuous-running celebration in Utah, Pleasant Grove Mayor Mike Daniels said. The events took place June 20 to 23, commemorating the festival”s 87th year. The events continue to draw in more people as time goes on. Even though the city added nearly 1,000 more seats, the rodeo still sold out all four nights.

    “It really brings together families from all around the United States,” Daniels said.

    Strawberry Days is named for the many strawberry fields that once grew in the city. Although now there are no commercially grown strawberries in the city, the fruit continues to be a big part of the festivities. Citizens prepare strawberries and cream, as well as strawberry pie, especially for the event.

    Daniels said he enjoys watching the children during the week of free activities, including fishing for trout, marching in the children”s parade and mutton busting (riding bareback on sheep).

    “You know they”re making memories,” Daniels said.

    Many other Utah Valley city festivals also are done for the summer. Eagle Mountain celebrated Pony Express Days May 31 to June 2. Springville Art City Days were June 3-10. Lehi Round-up took place June 23-30.

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