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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

Summer festival fun coming your way

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Different people celebrate summer in different ways.

Some tribes in ancient Europe lit bonfires and had couples jump through the flames. In modern-day McClure, Ohio, people go bobbing for radishes.

How far we've come. While things may have gotten a bit safer over the centuries, they haven't become less weird.

Ypsilanti, Mich., has made Elvis its ambassador of summer with Michigan Elvisfest. Little Kenton, Ohio, chose the singing cowboy Gene Autry.

Around these parts, you can't throw a rock (as part of a Swiss Steinstossen competition at the German-American Festival in Oregon, of course) without hitting a summer celebration. Strawberries, corn, livestock - we love it all.

But to finding the more unusual or at least unexpected can take a harder look. Here is a sampling of some summer gems outside the immediate area in Ohio and Michigan that just might be worth a little road trip.

BATTLE CREEK CEREAL FESTIVAL

Battle Creek, Mich., June 9-12

Michigan Avenue downtown

A must for anyone brought up to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Upwards of 60,000 people are expected to show up for free breakfast June 10 as part of the World's Longest Breakfast Table - picnic tables stretching down several city blocks. Battle Creek is home to cereal makers Kellogg's, Post, and Ralston Foods, and visitors can check out Kellogg's Cereal City USA as well as the National Lumberjack Championships.

Admission: Free

Information: 269-962-2240 or cerealfestival.com

BANANA SPLIT FESTIVAL

Wilmington, Ohio, June 10-11

J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park on Rombach Avenue

For years, residents have believed Ernest Hazard created the first banana split here back in 1907, winning his own contest to create a new dish at his restaurant. The people of Latrobe, Pa. claim they gave birth to the famous dessert three years earlier, but the dispute hasn't dampened the spirits of those at this '50s and '60s-era festival, where the highlight, of course, is the build-your-own banana split booth with ice cream made by a local shop.

Admission: Free

Information: 877-428-4748 or www.bananasplitfestival.com

MCCLURE RADISH FESTIVAL

McClure, Ohio, June 17-19

Big Creek Park at State Routes 6 and 65

All-you-can-eat radishes. All you can carry home. All free. Do you need any more convincing? OK, how about radish eating and radish bobbing contests on June 19, along with putt putt radish. This small festival, now in its 26th year, remembers the time when the town had a radish factory. These days, though, the thousands and thousands of radishes have to be shipped in from out of state.

Admission: $5 daily, $13 for three-day pass; 16 and under are free with parents

Information: 419-748-8862

FESTIVAL OF FISH

Vermilion, Ohio, June 17-19

Victory Park on Main Street

The fishery in town may be gone, but the fish remain. Enjoy some walleye or Lake Erie perch as you watch the sand castle contest at the beach or the Crazy Craft Race on the Vermilion River in which people try to use homemade, nonmotorized boats made out of everything from two-liter bottles to barrels. A lighted boat parade down the river caps off the night of July 18 before a more-traditional parade the next day.

Admission: Free

Information: 440-967-4477 or vermilionohio.com/events.htm

WASHBOARD MUSIC FESTIVAL

Logan, Ohio, June 17-19

Main Street downtown

From jazz to jug band, this three-day event in the beautiful Hocking Hills region celebrates the enduring role of the washboard in music. Numerous bands from across the country will perform, and all of them will in some way incorporate washboards. Buy your own washboard and take a tour of the Columbus Washboard Company, the last manufacturer of them in the country and home to the world's largest washboard.

Admission: Free

Information: 740-380-3828 or washboardfestival.com

GENE AUTRY DAYS

Kenton, Ohio, June 25-26

Hardin County Fairgrounds Community Building

Some believe that America's favorite Singing Cowboy saved this town when it was granted a contract to produce Gene Autry Repeating Cap Pistols in the 1930s. More than 6 million of the guns were manufactured by the Kenton Hardware Co. Today, visitors to this small festival can see gunslingers in fast-draw competitions as well as Western celebrity look-a-likes, Gene Autry movies, Western collectibles, and live entertainment.

Admission: $5, under 12 free

Information: 419-673-4131 or chamber.hardinohio.org/gene_autry.htm

MICHIGAN ELVISFEST

Ypsilanti, Mich., July 8-9

Riverside Park at Huron and Cross streets

Elvis Presley may be gone, but it won't feel like it when more than 10,000 people and 15 tribute artists come together to celebrate the life, music, and kitsch of The King. This rhinestone studded, hip shaking, hound dog loving festival is one of six in the nation that is officially sanctioned by Graceland, according to organizers. Don't be cruel. Join the fun.

Admission: $10 July 8, $15 July 9, under 10 free

Information: 734-483-4444 or www.mielvisfest.com

HAMLER SUMMERFEST

Hamler, Ohio, July 29-31

Hamler Community Park on State Rt. 109

Polka is life for many of those who make the pilgrimage each summer to Hamler. Sure, there will be some rock and country bands too, as the festival tries to expand its appeal, but the traditional mainstay is polka, polka, polka. Take a break from the dance floor to enjoy some bratwurst, German potato salad, and sauerkraut, too.

Admission: $7 daily, $10 for two-day pass; under 16 free with parents

Information: 419-274-7800

PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME FESTIVAL

Canton, Ohio, July 29-Aug. 8

Various locations

Are you ready for some football? NFL legends Steve Young and Dan Marino lead this year's class of inductees into the Hall of Fame. Catch them and other former players on Aug. 6 during the grand parade - 225,000 people usually line the route of one of the largest in the nation - and take some time to tour the hall itself. The festival also features concerts, fireworks, autograph sessions, the enshrinement ceremony, and Hall of Fame Game.

Admission: Parade is free; some other events are ticketed. (Enshrinement and Hall of Fame Game are sold out.)

Information: 800-533-4302 or www.profootballhoffestival

.com

BUCYRUS BRATWURST FESTIVAL

Bucyrus, Ohio, Aug. 18-20

Sandusky Avenue downtown

If you like food, this is the festival for you. Billed as the "eatingest" festival in Ohio, vendors go through 20 tons of brats - that's more than 200,000 of the stuff - during the weekend, and it's all made locally. If you're still hungry, there are eating contests involving brats, ice cream, pizza, and cream puffs. This street fair, which has a parade each day and a karaoke contest, expects to host 150,000 people this year.

Admission: Free

Information: 419-562-BRAT

WOODWARD DREAM CRUISE

Oakland County, Mich., Aug. 20

Woodward Avenue

Cruise on in to Woodward Avenue, which used to be the place to show off your hot wheels back in the day. Last year, 1.7 million people showed up to check out 40,000 classic cars lined up along 16 miles of road stretching through nine communities in Oakland County. It's billed as the largest one-day automotive happening in the world.

Admission: Free

Information: www.woodwarddreamcruise.com

MILAN MELON FESTIVAL

Milan, Ohio, Sept. 3-5

State Rt. 113 downtown

The hills are alive with muskmelons! Forget about hometown boy Thomas Edison, this festival centers around the lovable melons grown in the area. Don't miss a chance to get muskmelon ice cream and watermelon sherbet, made exclusively for the event by nearby Toft's Dairy. And don't confuse this town with Milan, Mich. Organizers said that happened years ago with Toledo folks, leaving officials north of the border perplexed by an influx of festival goers but no festival.

Admission: Free

Information: 419-499-4064

MARION POPCORN FESTIVAL

Marion, Sept. 8-10

Center and Main streets downtown

Ask anyone in Marion and they'll tell you it's "Urgent" that you come for this town's 25th annual festival. The rock band Foreigner will be there, as will an estimated 250,000 other people over the course of the weekend. Other "pop"-ular offerings include a popcorn cooking contest - Can you say popcorn meatloaf? Popcorn griddle cakes? - and don't miss the Wyandot Popcorn Museum.

Admission: Free

Information: 740-387-FEST or www.popcornfestival.com

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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