Annual Bayfield Apple Festival Draws Large Crowds

The first week in October means one thing to Northland apple-enthusiasts—the Apple Festival in downtown Bayfield, Wis.

This past weekend, Oct. 5-7, marked the festival’s 51st year in running. Visitors flocked to the big hill on Lake Superior to buy locally grown apples, listen to Big Top Chautauqua’s Blue Canvas Orchestra and watch the Grand Parade.

Over the weekend, the town’s population temporarily swelled from its residency of 487 to about 55,000.

For many orchards, the Apple Festival is a family and friend affair. Allen Rabideaux has been hauling apples from his orchard three miles down the hill to the festival for all but two years since 1963. At first, he, his wife Mary Jo and five kids ran the apple and cider booths. His crew has now swelled to 22 helpers with the addition of children-in-law and grandchildren.

“Last year we had 22 bodies laying on the floor when we got up in the morning,” Rabideaux said. “(Mealtime) reminds my wife of working in the school cafeteria, slapping food onto plates.” Rabideaux estimates he sells 65 percent of his crop at the festival and says he couldn’t do it without his family.

Don Wicklund, of Prior Lake, Minn., is another dedicated volunteer who has been helping his friend Bill Ferraro, owner of Apple Hill Orchard in Bayfield, for the past 18 years. They arrived early Thursday to dip 6,000 to 7,000 caramel apples, he estimated.

“This is the big weekend, the big push,” Wicklund said. “If it weren’t for (the festival), the orchards would have a very difficult time because apples come in from all over the United States, New Zealand, Japan and Chile. It’s hard to compete.”

According to Wicklund, Bayfield orchards used to send trainloads of apples to stores in Minnesota before outside competition came along.

Wicklund’s booth sold a variety of flavored caramel apples, homemade apple fudge turtle sundaes, and bags of Cortland apples. Saturday, his job was to assemble 5- and 10-pound bags to sell.

“This year the apples are larger than they’ve been for many years,” Wicklund said. “So, there’s not as many in a bag, but you’re still getting the same mass.”

This spring and summer’s weather had different effects on Bayfield’s orchards. Rabideaux lost 35 percent of his crop because his trees were woken up by warm weather in early April and began to bloom, but were then hit by frost at the end of the month. Most of the apples survived, however, and were nursed back to health by the rain in June.

“We had really good rains when we needed them,” Rabideaux said.

Elyda Amrein, a family member of and volunteer for the Hauser’s Superior View Orchard in Bayfield, said 85 percent of their apple crop came through, which she deems successful considering the lack of rain at the end of the summer and the two-week early harvest.

“The Cortland (apples) did fabulous!” she said.

Besides apples, there was a definite variety of apple desserts around the festival that were quite popular. Husband and wife, Allen and Pat Duncan, stopped to buy apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream and warm apple dumplings with rum sauce. The couple said they were just “cruising and eating.”

A group of students from Northland College in Ashland, Wis., were also enjoying the apple treats.

“Every year we eat something different,” junior Erika Zocher said. This is her third year at the festival.

The group spent their Saturday walking around, eating food, checking out the crafts, and looking at the fall colors over Lake Superior. They did not, however, venture over to the carnival rides. “We’re broke college kids,” they laughed together. “We can justify food, but not rides.”


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