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New Oregon Trail Days a success despite hot temps

Native American dancer Travis Leonard performs a grass dance during the Oregon Trail Days festival Saturday. Photo by Earleen Hinton
Native American dancer Travis Leonard performs a grass dance during the Oregon Trail Days festival Saturday. Photo by Earleen Hinton

The warm-up to the Blackhawk Statue's 100th birthday bash in 2011 turned out to be a hot ticket in 2010.

With temperatures in the mid 90s, organizers of the Oregon Trail Days festival estimated that close to 6,000 people turned out for the inaugural event last weekend.

"Initial counts indicate that we served about 5,500 people on Friday and Saturday," said committee member Amy Trimble. "More than 600 people went on the statue tour and we raised approximately $5,000 for the statue. We had 300 people at the breakfast on Sunday and 100 runners took part in the 8K race."

The event was centered around the region’s Native American and western heritage and designed to commemorate the creation of the Black Hawk statue.

The statue was designed by Chicago artist Lorado Taft in 1910 and completed and dedicated in 1911. While Taft designed it as a tribute to all Native Americans, it has become known as the Blackhawk Statue in honor of Sauk medicine man Black Hawk.

The 48-foot statue, located at Lowden State Park, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places last year. It is in need repairs with restoration estimates between $350,000 and $400,000.

The bulk of the crowd attended Saturday events with a steady stream of visitors riding shuttle buses to Lowden State Park to look inside the statue, watch Native Ameircan dancers and western performers, and see the tipis—most of them painted by area artists.

"This year we had 50 tipis on display and next year we're shooting for 100," said committee member Beth Henderson. "The weather cooperated with us. It was a little on the hot side, but I don't think that stopped anyone from coming."

The festival kicked off Friday night with an Outdoor Saloon and Eatery in the Third Street parking lot in Oregon. The event included a beer garden, four food booths, a merchandise tent, and musical performances by three bands.

The 500 chairs that were set up in the parking lot quickly filled when Johnny Cash impersonator Terry Lee Goffee, took the stage. "He was very popular. We are planning on having him back again next year," said Trimble.

On Saturday, the event moved to Lowden State Park where the tipis were displayed in the large grassy area next to the main entrance.

The first event of the day was a Native American blessing by Joseph Standing Bear. He blessed the statue as close to 200 watched and took part.

In the main park, visitors could see Native American dancers in full regalia perform in one ring while in another a gunslinger, rope trick master, and cowboy singer performed. Children could craft their own tipi out of cardboard or make an Native American bracelet out of paper at the kids craft area.

Merchandise tents selling Native American jewelry, western wear, and art were also available as were demonstration areas offering insights into flint knapping, beadworking, and raptor rehabilitation.

But the longest line of the day was back at the statue were a steady stream of curious folks waited in line to see inside the 100-year-old icon for a $5 fee.

"It's a wonderful piece of history and we need to do what we can do to preserve and help it," said Neita Webster, Leaf River as she exited from the brief tour. "This festival is a wonderful idea and this is perfect place to have it."

Jason Blake, Rockford, watched his two children Torin and Teagen, examined buffalo bones and learned how Native Americans used them at the informational tent provided by Midwest Soarring Foundation (Save Our Ancestors Remains & Resources Indigenous Network Group).

"I think the festival is phenomenal. It's showcasing a great part of our history," said Jason.

"We're having a really good time," added Teagen.

Joan Harms, Sterling, was one of the riders who took part in the horse parade. She paused briefly to look over the Rock River Valley as she rode her horse, Beau, past the historic statue.

"It's beautiful today. I hope they do it again next year," she said. "I could not pass this up."

Kari and Dan Long, Dixon, enjoyed the Native American dancing and drumming.

"We love it," said Kari.

"We actually liked all of it," added Dan, a native of Oregon.

Don and Fleda Lawyer, Newark, Illinois, decided to camp at the state park during the festival weekend.

"It was a good show. It looks like it was a success," said Don.

Wayne and RuDella Suter, Chana, also liked what they saw.

"This was fantastic," said RuDella. "I liked the dancers...everything. I will definitely come back next year."

Lowden State Park Superintendent Jamie Dowdall said all the extra work by his small staff (two part time and one part time person) was worth it.

"I thought everything went very well," he said. "People have been courteous and it is well organized. It hope to see it all happen again."

"It was a lot of extra work to get the park ready, but it was worth it to see the good turnout," said Darrell Kump, a Lowden employee and Oregon resident.

Henderson said the Oregon Trail Days committee is already planning next year's festival.

"We were just blown away by how many people we had attend this year," said Henderson. "We couldn't be happier."

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