Festivals Of The Rim Country

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There was a time when there were more than 40 festivals held throughout the year in the Rim country.

Betty Steiber -- a volunteer with the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce for 20 years -- shakes her head, saddened by the demise of so many special events that drew the community together, with visitors from around the state.

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The Payson Parks and Recreation Department's summer 2003 concert series in Green Valley Park drew between 500 and 800 people to each performance.

"That was around 1985 to 1986," she said. "It was like that until the 1990s."

Some of the festivals that are no longer a part of the Rim landscape: the Loggers Sawdust Festival, the Kiwanis Chili Cook-off, the Country Music Festival, and the Annual Doll Show.

"I still get calls (at the chamber) about the chili cook-off and Sawdust Festival," Steiber said.

She can't remember what led to the end of the chili cook-off, but the Sawdust Festival and Country Music Festival were ended because the chamber no longer wanted to present them, she said.

It took a lot of manpower to put on the various events. Steiber said it took at least 12 volunteers to man the gates, ticket booth and the chamber booth, and there were three shifts that had to be filled, so three dozen people were needed every day of every festival. In addition to gate and booth workers, volunteers were needed to work the grounds, look after the money and work with the contestants.

An estimated 47,830 people attended events in 2003. The biggest draws were the big craft fairs coordinated by Dean Schlosser, Fourth of July festivities, the Electric Light Parade and the August rodeo. Schlosser, who will return the craft fairs to the courthouse grounds in 2004, said the May show draws between 8,000 and 10,000, while the October show pulls in between 5,000 and 7,000 people.

Michelle Beach with the Payson Parks and Recreation Department said the Fourth of July events attracted about 6,500, with the August rodeo showing an attendance of 4,970. Because so many of the town-sponsored events, and many of the others, don't charge admission, hard counts on attendance are not possible.

Marilyn Wolfe, who organizes the Electric Light Parade annually, said the police estimated between 4,000 to 5,000 were at the event in 2003.

The next best-attended event last year was the Strawberry Festival, with between 3,000 and 5,000 people on hand; the Business Showcase had about 3,000 attending; an estimated 1,500 participated in the town's Halloween event; about 1,500 art lovers attended the Payson Art League's shows and sales.

There were 1,200 fiddle fans at the Fiddlers Festival and about the same number at the Easter events at Green Valley Park; 1,000 were at the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo; an estimated 600 to 1,000 people came out for the Swiss Village Christmas Lighting program.

The Tonto Community Concert Association has 850 season ticket holders; between 500 and 800 attended the town's Concert Under the Stars series; about 350 people attended the annual Zane Grey Twirlers Square and Round Dance Festival; with 300 at the town's Christmas event; and about 130 registered in the Turkey Trot 5K walk/run.

The coming year will see more changes in the festival landscape of the Rim country.

Joe Harless who coordinated the June Bug Blues Festival has moved on, so the outlook for that event is murky.

The Payson Art League is making changes in its scheduled events, planning to present the studio tour and the show and sale at different times.

There is also talk of bringing in new events for residents and visitors alike, but no firm plans have yet been announced.

Contact the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce for the latest festival information, (928) 474-4515, or (800) 672-9766.

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