Community Feature Springtime Fun Starts with Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival
The oldest city in Sumner County, Kan. – Belle Plaine – was founded in 1871. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this scenic, tulip-strewn garden spot situated between the Arkansas and Ninnescah Rivers. Spring is heralded in a big way in Belle Plaine. It’s a tradition. The 36th Annual Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival will be bursting with fun (mostly outdoor) activities for all ages on April 9, 10, and 11, 2021.
The Belle Plaine Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first “Tulip Time” Festival in 1986 to complement the arrival of spring at the historic Bartlett Arboretum, which was founded in 1910 by Dr. Walter E. Bartlett. A physician, naturalist, civic leader – and perhaps most importantly, a visionary – Dr. Bartlett turned a treeless, 15-acre plot along the Euphrates Creek at the edge of Belle Plaine and into a shady, enchanted wonderland. Providentially, today the Bartlett Arboretum is nurtured by Robin Macy, steward extraordinaire.
This year’s Downtown Festival actually started last fall with the Annual Button Design Contest. Sandy Beaman submitted the winning design, which is also printed on commemorative T-shirts ($15). Festival attendees are encouraged to purchase $3 buttons to be eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes, as well as to help offset festival expenses. T-shirts and buttons can be purchased at the Chamber booth.
The Vendor Fair, Downtown Parade (at noon on Saturday, with the 150th Anniversary as its theme), 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament (indoors – following youth sports and school safety rules), and Car & Bike Show (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday) are some of the longest-running and most popular events of the festival. One committee member says that “it wouldn’t even be the festival” without the annual Decorated Wheels Contest, which includes bicycles, tricycles, wagons, strollers, wheelchairs, 3-wheel adult bikes (complete with costumed pedalers), and now – golf carts (which have been added this year). It’s on Saturday with judging at 11 a.m., followed by contestants rolling along in the parade.
Local favorites include the Pet Show (9 a.m. on Saturday), Duke & Duchess Contest (10:30 a.m. on Saturday), Medallion Hunt, and Kids Fest. Friday night festivities kick off at 6 p.m. with another favorite – the Talent Show – followed by a Street Dance, which promises the opportunity for hometown reunions and alumni celebrations, perfected by DJ-generated music and food trucks. Bring your lawn chairs. One volunteer shared, “Hopefully the weather will be nice and everyone who ever had a connection with Belle Plaine will come down, see old friends, get some fresh air, and have some fun.” A family favorite, the Glow Run, will also light up Friday night with a one-mile walk/run. It’s slated for 8 p.m.
The “Downtown Doodlebug” (kind of a 14-seat golf cart, which will be lit up) will make its debut this year. It’s an upgrade from the old tractor and tram system that used to transport visitors to event locations.
Also new this year is a Cornhole Tournament, Sand Volleyball Tournament, and amusements including a castle to climb on, a 22’ slide, and obstacle courses, etc., for children, teens, and adults. This is the festival’s inaugural year for a Farm and Ranch Show, which will shine a spotlight on Belle Plaine’s farming community. Kids Power Wheels Races and a Poker Run benefitting Kansas Honor Flight are in their second year – with growing interest. And finally, a beard contest (which hasn’t been held for 40 years) is returning. Dubbed the “Facial Hair Face-Off,” it promises to be entertaining. While men will likely sport the real thing; women and children are invited to model crocheted beards, fake beards, etc., if they aren’t endowed with enough hair for a beard. See this spectacle at 1 p.m. Saturday on the Downtown Stage.
Speaking of the Downtown Stage, a number of live acts are scheduled this year, including the Farnum Family Variety Show, hailing from Branson, Mo., with bluegrass, folk, gospel, Irish, old-time western music, and more. They will be performing both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night’s headliner is Mountain Deer Revival – combining southern rock, Americana, and red-dirt music styles. The Wonderers will perform 50s, 60s, and 70s favorites. The Cartunes will provide live entertainment at the Car & Bike Show. Local favorite, Merilee Voth, will sing patriotic selections during the parade and will perform on stage Sunday.
The 6th Annual BPQ Cook-Off barbecue competition will accept 20 competitors. Get all the details here. Sporting events, including an April 3 Golf Tournament at the Wellington Golf Club, are also a big draw.
Instead of their annual Photography Contest, an online Festival Photo Contest will be conducted, with participants encouraged to submit pictures taken at the Downtown Festival events this year.
The Bartlett Arboretum’s event, “ART at the ARB,” is Friday and Saturday, featuring over 100 visual and performing artists against a background of 40,000 blooming bulbs and under their century-old tree canopy. See all the details and check for updates via the Bartlett Arboretum Facebook Page.
Since its beginning, Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival has been a collaborative effort, with the Chamber, the City of Belle Plaine, and area businesses bringing families and friends together to celebrate spring. It provides quality family entertainment for visitors of all ages, all the while showcasing everything Belle Plaine has to offer. The Chamber values its longstanding partnership with SKT, which sponsors Wi-Fi hotspots to help volunteers stay connected, as some of the events are spread across the town; in addition, the internet access provided by SKT allows the vendors to complete their monetary transactions.
Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival is more important than ever this year – especially with the celebration of the city’s Sesquicentennial. Not only that, due to the pandemic, 2020’s celebration was cancelled. “We’re glad to be having it this year,” says an organizer. Changes have been made to keep everyone as safe as possible – including postponing indoor events, moving everything outside to accommodate social distancing, and providing extra hand-washing and sanitation stations for festivalgoers. She adds, “Wear a mask if you want.”
One of the volunteers aptly describes herself as a “person behind the curtain.” Largely planned and executed by people who do it because they enjoy it – not because they want to be in the spotlight or get attention – the Chamber is thankful for these numerous, behind-the-scenes volunteers and all the sponsors who make this largest festival in Sumner County happen.
Been hankering for a fried candy bar or fried mac & cheese, a sno-cone, or stone-fired pizza? You’ll probably find those fairground fares too at Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival. For a list of all the events, times, locations, entry forms, and the latest updates, go to Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival website or their Facebook Page, Belle Plaine’s Downtown Festival.