Three cheers for Flathead cherries

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POLSON — The City of Polson and the Flathead cherry: Together again.

Last weekend, Polson’s Main Street Flathead Cherry Festival again went off without a hitch, further solidifying that magical connection. Nowadays, the two go together like peas in a pod — a notion that not even the woman who started it all could have ever imagined.

It wasn’t always such a tight bond between the town and the fruit, according to Polson Chamber of Commerce President and event organizer Jackie Cripe, who has manned the reigns of the Polson cherry train since day one.

“I wanted to do something different that would bring people downtown,” Cripe said of the first Main Street festival she organized 13 years ago. “Then, seven years ago, I met with the cherry growers who were looking for a way to educate people on Flathead cherry agriculture. We decided to do two events that year and found out agro-tourism was the way to go.”

Due to a relatively short season and the area’s jam-packed summer schedule, Cripe said the two events — Main Street’s festival and the Flathead Cherry festival — were combined after that first year. And there’s been no looking back.

“I’m very proud of it,” she said. “I’m proud of the accomplishment of our community to grow and get the message out there — the identity of Polson is out there.”

With a picturesque lake and a bustling agricultural and business community, Polson has all the ingredients needed for the vacation of one’s dreams. The summer’s long list of family-friendly events have only helped to increase that draw.

While a cool, wet spring meant there were no fresh Flathead cherries at this year’s festival, there were more cherry products than ever: Flathead cherry pies, jams, spreads, smoothies and cherry lemonade were among the edible products for sale. Beyond the tasty treats, vendors sold decorative ornaments, fabrics, furniture and toys. There was hardly a bare cheek in the town as cherry tattoos and painted faces seemed to dominate every scene.

Cripe, who claims she moved to Polson 14 years ago “to slow down a bit” hardly has, but will alas relinquish the cherry crown and allow new leadership to take the steering wheel next year.

“It’s been fun, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it, and I know the Polson Business Community will move forward with fresh ideas,” she said. “When I first started, people laughed and didn’t think I could fill two blocks.”

That first year, Cripe’s festival indeed filled two blocks. The estimate for 2011, just 13 years later? Between 8-10,000 visitors.

Sure looks like Polson’s biggest festival of the year is here to stay.

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