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Annual Peach Festival expected to draw thousands
By Terry Duffy
And just like that, it’s ending.
Yes, our all-too-brief summer of 2019 in Buffalo-Niagara is just about over. Vacations and the countless fun outdoor activities are fading as we now prep for the change in seasons and what that brings.
But hey, rather than dreading the onset of autumn, let’s look on the bright side. We can look forward to (hopefully) some comfy weather, (hopefully) exciting fall sports, the harvests, and the beauty of the season.
And did you know the Niagara County Peach Festival is next week in Lewiston?
A community favorite, the Lewiston Kiwanis-sponsored event opens Thursday, Sept. 5, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 8, at Academy Park.
Bring on the fun!
Kiwanis President Marty Pauly, Peach Festival Chairwoman Jillian Colucci and the 100-plus members who comprise Lewiston Kiwanis Club invite readers to partake in some new happenings for 2019. They encourage the community to enjoy the many traditions that continue to make this an annual family fall favorite – now going on 62 years.
In his recent remarks to the media, Pauly revealed a secret: What’s now fondly known as the Peach Festival didn’t actually start out that way.
“Sixty-two years (ago), Lewiston Kiwanis was born, and during that first year, the charter members thought it would be appropriate to do something for the farmers of the area,” he said. “The original fruit of choice was strawberries, but given the time of the season as the idea was conceived, peaches were more ripe, so it became the Peach Festival.”
That tribute to agriculture has gone on to become a popular tradition for thousands in Buffalo-Niagara.
Colucci spoke of the new happenings this year -- as in an expanded Peach Taste-Off affair to lead it off, plus a fully open park with all the bells and whistles – including the Amusements of America midway, 90 vendors (including 27 food) on site, plus sports mascots from the Bills, Sabres and Bisons, the Super Heroes, and more cruising Academy on Thursday.
“I’m excited to talk to you about the Peach Festival,” Colucci said. “We will be starting again this year on Thursday, Sept. 5. It is the second time that we are opening our festival on Thursday and (we are) opening our whole field. So come on down, enjoy the peach shortcake, enjoy the Taste, enjoy the sights, and some great entertainment on that Thursday as well as our rides, of course.”
The Taste is sponsored by Niagara County Community College and the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. This year, the competition will expand to include Food Enthusiast, Culinary Recipe, Children’s Recipe and, new this year, Best Peach Vendor Dish categories.
“Many folks don’t know, but we have a great contest for our vendors to bring to the table a Peach Queen item. So the restaurants and the food trucks that you enjoy … many of them will be here and they will have a Peach Queen item. And on that Thursday, they will be coming up on stage to showcase these items. We’ll have the contest, find the best one, and you can enjoy that throughout the festival,” Colucci said.
“This year’s competition will highlight the local agriculture and business in Western New York,” said chef Benjamin Loomis, NCCC director of community education – culinary arts. “We are always excited to see what kinds of recipes that will come in, and excited come taste time. I would like to thank the Kiwanis Club for sponsoring this festival.”
Colucci said, “It will be a nice time to come out with the kiddos that Thursday night.”
From Friday through Sunday, Peach Festival visitors can look forward to all the traditional favorites. Friday leads off at 5:30 p.m. with the All-Star Cheerleading Competition featuring the finest in youth football and cheerleading squads throughout the area. Local rock band favorite Rusty Nickel will entertain on the park stage until 11 p.m.
“On Saturday, we have our Peach Fuzz and Peach Blossom ... and of course we have our Peach Queen contest throughout the entire festival,” Colucci said. “We have our Dance Showcase on Sunday.”
Let’s not forget about those Niagara County peaches. Again, Lewiston Kiwanis will feature the farm-fresh produce of Bittner-Singer Farms in Appleton for its famous peach shortcake. Farmer Jim Bittner will provide more than 14,000 pounds – seven tons – of the tasty peaches this year for the festival. He noted with pride that Niagara County farmers produce 400 to 500 acres of peaches annually, and this area stands out over others because of its favorable growing conditions.
“You have to understand why peaches are grown in Niagara County,” he said. “Peaches cannot take real cold winter temperatures. If it gets down -5, -10 below zero in wintertime, we’ll lose next year’s peach crop. Anything below (that) will kill the tree, outright. So that’s why there are peaches grown along Lake Ontario, where temperatures don’t get that cold usually. Also peach trees require perfectly drained soil. That’s why we’re here: Lake Ontario and highly drained soils.”
Bitter said he expects to have all his peaches for the Peach Festival picked by this weekend.
“That number of acres is a lot of man power and a lot of work,” he said.
Still more to look forward to at Peach is that spectacular parade that opens at 11 a.m. Saturday along Center Street in Lewiston.
Peach Festival Advisory Chairman Jerry Wolfgang said this year’s production would feature 13 marching bands – an all-time high.
“We have over 100 units for our parade,” Wolfgang said. “Normally I won’t mention (the) bands, but we have a tremendous amount this year. People who come to the parade always love the bands, the music.”
Expected this year are the Gordon Highlanders, the Sanborn Fire Co. Band, the McKenzie Highlanders Pipe Band, the Iroquois Indian Band, Mount St. Mary’s Academy, a high school girls’ band, the Niagara Falls High School Band, Erie County Sheriff’s Pipe Band and the Ghost Riders.
Still more activities include the 40th annual Peach Festival 5K Run, with proceeds to benefit the WNY Tourette Association and Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, Taking place Saturday on Center Street. WGRZ-TV meteorologist Heather Waldman will lead off this year’s race, which is open to runners of all ages. Visit www.racemanagementsolutions.com to register or for more info.
Kiwanis officials said that, throughout the weekend, visitors will find parking and access to the Academy Park grounds a breeze thanks to a shuttle arrangement with Gray Line Tours that again will be in place this year.
“As usual we’ll be having our shuttle,” said Kiwanian Gerry Gismondi, who handles traffic and parking. “A few years ago we added Gray Line Tours … they will be running throughout the festival and it’s free. The idea was to eliminate the congestion around the field. You can park away from the field at Artpark in the upper lots and the shuttle will take you to and from the festival all day long.”
Check the Peach Festival website, www.lewistonpeachfestival.org, for a map of the shuttle times.
Also check that website for locations of Kiwanis advance ride tickets, which are now on sale. Tickets are available at 40 locations in Erie and Niagara counties, including Niagara Frontier Publications on Grand Island, at a 50% discount.
“Advance ride tickets are great, because they offer a significant discount over the ticket costs; we encourage you to buy them,” Pauly said.
He joined with Lewiston Kiwanis members in inviting readers to be a part of this year’s Peach Festival weekend. Remember: By attending and supporting Kiwanis, you are helping this all- volunteer organization do what it does best – benefit the community.
“Over the first 61 years, the Kiwanis Club has been able to raise and donate out to the community $1.3 million,” Pauly said. “Many benefit from this Peach Fest – there are several nonprofits around here.”
In addition, “We are able to award $9,000 in scholarships every year; some of it goes to the Peach Queen and the rests of it goes to seniors graduating, mainly from Lew-Port. We also sponsor student clubs at area schools – schools at Lew-Port, at NU, at the Tuscarora School, as well,” Pauly said. “Another great aspect of the Peach Festival is that we set aside spots on the field for nonprofits. Over the first 61 years, these nonprofits have been able to raise for themselves $1.5 million.”
He closed by reminding all that, “Kiwanis and the community need this Peach Festival to be successful. It has been successful at Academy Park for 61 years. And we want it to be continue to be successful at Academy Park for the next 61 years.”
For more info on this year’s Peach Festival, visit www.lewistonpeachfestival.org.