Four-day Niagara County event awaits visitors
By Terry Duffy
The return of a long-time Lewiston favorite is less than a week away.
As we all know, COVID-19 has taken its toll on everyone, with tragedies and disruptions to our lives over the past year that are too many to count. As we continue our rebound, we welcome and appreciate more the enjoyable times in our lives – one of which is returning in just six days: The 63rd edition of the Niagara County Peach Festival.
After being canceled due to COVID-19 last year, the Peach Festival will open Thursday evening, Sept. 9, and run to Sunday evening, Sept. 12, at Lewiston’s Academy Park on Center Street. It is presented by the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston. Returning will be many of the treasured good times and experiences of past decades. The event will also bring new attractions, marked by a completely new layout at Academy Park, and many fun, safe and family-oriented experiences visitors can look forward to.
“I’m really excited this year about the Peach Festival,” said President Lee Allan at a recent Kiwanis press event welcoming the return of the annual event. “Last year was a tough year being COVID, and we are really excited having this festival. What a huge comeback!
“All the money we earn from this festival goes to really good stuff, and it’s all donated towards kids, nonprofit organizations, kids that go to camp. It’s really impressive. I want to thank the community and all our volunteers who come out and help. Come out and get some peaches!”
And come out and enjoy the many new experiences for 2021.
Kiwanis Peach Festival Chairman Dean Beltrano and a host of others spoke of the club’s much-anticipated return of this fall favorite, and what visitors from throughout Buffalo Niagara can look forward to next week. That includes: an improved Academy Park festival layout; a relocated, renovated bandshell for the festival’s musical acts, dancers and pageants; the return of the always-fun Amusements of American midway; the large Saturday morning parade planned for Center Street; and the variety of enjoyable sights and sounds, foods and games for all to enjoy throughout. And of course those tasty peaches.
“I’d like to echo Lee’s sentiments in welcoming everybody back,” Beltrano said. “We are hoping this is going to be a great year. And I do believe this is something that the community really needs.
“Some of things that we have new this year are going to be going on, on the field. Our peaches going to look a little bit different. We are still getting them from Bittner-Singer Orchards, but the peaches are going to be cubed versus sliced and that’s just a result of processing.”
Beltrano went on to highlight a truly welcome change at this year’s festival – the completely refurbished Alphonso DiMino Memorial Bandshell that was relocated this summer to the park’s southwest corner.
“As you can see, to my left we have a new stage being constructed. It used to be in my corner to the right (northwest corner of Academy Park),” he said. “We moved it to the left, and they’re building an actual stage that is going to be there year-round. It’s going to be there for anyone who wants to use the park. It is a great addition for the festival this year.
“The seating (has changed). There will no longer be stadium or grandstand seating. That was taken away and there is no reason to replace that, because (now) where the stage is, everything (on stage) can play out to the park. What we are going to do is provide seating in an enclosed area. We’ll have seating for everyone; no need to bring your own. So just come out and enjoy all the entertainment throughout the weekend.”
From left, Peach Festival Chair Dean Beltrano, Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch and Festival Advisory Chair Jerry Wolfgang enjoy peaches from Niagara County’s Bittner-Singer Farms. (Photo by Terry Duffy)
Among the host of on-stage happenings to look for: the Peach Festival Taste-off competition will leadoff at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by a performance by Nerds Gone Wild.
“For the first time ever, on Thursday night when we open the festival this year, Nerds Gone Wild will be here to open the festival for us,” Beltrano said. “We look forward to working with them, it’s a great fit and again another great way to welcome everybody back to the Peach Festival.
A symbolic 9/11 tribute opens Friday evening.
“We always look to do things to honor those who sacrificed on that day,” Beltrano said. “We will have a little ceremony during our opening ceremonies. On that Saturday during the parade there will be a giant American flag stretched across Center Street, suspended between two fire trucks. Again, it is just another ceremony and another way for us to recognize and honor those who lost their lives and those who went into those buildings to try to save people and ended up losing their lives.
Also on Friday will be the All-Star Cheerleading Competition and a stage performance by Rusty Nickel.
The Peach Blossom and Peach Fuzz competitions will take the stage on Saturday afternoon and continue with the Peach Queen Fashion Show, followed by an evening performance featuring the "Tribute to Elvis."
Sunday afternoon will feature the dance showcase. Activities culminate with the Peach Queen pageant finals at 8 p.m., with 10 contestants entered from the Niagara County area.
“I’m just pleased to see that the Niagara County Peach Festival is back again this year,” commented Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch. “We’re looking forward to record crowds this year, because I think that everyone is looking forward to coming back to the Peach Festival.”
Taking note of the refurbished bandshell, Welch continued, “I want to thank Anthony DiMino (of DiMino’s Lewiston Tops) who has relocated his bandshell and, with the addition of the new stage, it is going to work out very well for Peach Queen contestants this year. I just want to thank him for what he has done for the village.
“I just hope everyone comes down, and enjoys the Peach Festival and the peach shortcake. We’ll see you all then.”
In response to the ongoing concerns over COVID-19 and the delta variant, Kiwanis organizers report they have teamed up with the Niagara County Health Department to ensure a safe environment for visitors throughout the weekend. Health Director Daniel Stapleton announced registered nurses and NCDOH staff would be on site from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to administer cost-free Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations to the public.
“We want to provide the entire range of vaccinations that we can. I have my best staff who will be working here on those two days to make sure residents get what they need to be able to protect themselves and those that they love,” Stapleton said. “We’re very happy to be collaborating with the Kiwanis Club on this.”
Peach Festival Advisory Chairman Jerry Wolfgang said, “We’re looking forward to having the County Health Department here on Saturday and Sunday. And we hope a lot of people will come and get their vaccines. There is no cost whatsoever, so we encourage people to come down and get their vaccines here at Academy Park during the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival.”
And plan on enjoying the entire long weekend at this Niagara County favorite. The club reports Peach Festival advanced ride tickets are on sale at locations across Western New York.
What’s more, park admission and festival parking are both free, with shuttles to the Artpark upper lots again being provided to visitors by Greyline Tours.
“We encourage people to park at the Artpark upper lot,” Kiwanian Gerauld Gismondi said. “If you park at the Artpark upper lot, there are two shuttles that circle and drop people off and pick them up. It runs all four days of the festival, from start to close; you don’t have to worry about being stranded. It is free again, thanks to our sponsors and thank you to Artpark.”
For more information on the many activities at next weekend’s Peach Festival, visit www.lewistonpeachfestival.org.
Students from Niagara County Community College’s Niagara Falls Culinary Institute are assisting the Lewiston Kiwanis Club in peach food-tasting events. Pictured with the famous peach shortcake is Myriah Meyer. (Photo by Mark Williams Jr.)