MILTON — The beloved Milton Harvest Festival is back this year and ready to usher in autumn with a week-long schedule of events for all ages.

After being forced to cancel activities last year due to COVID restrictions, coordinators are looking forward to offering the 45th annual festival from this Friday to next Saturday, Sept. 18.

Festivities will begin Friday with the Tomato Bowl between the Milton Black Panthers and Holy Redeemer. Pre-game ceremonies will be held at 6:30 p.m., and the kickoff will be at 7 p.m. The game will be held at the Danville football stadium, since the Milton stadium is undergoing renovations.

This Saturday and next Saturday, Sept. 18, will feature more than 100 arts, craft and food vendors on Broadway and Bound avenues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On both Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can also take advantage of free admission to the Milton Model Train Museum, located at the Milton Moose 171, third floor, 139 S. Front St.

This Saturday will also feature a 28-mile bike race starting at 9:30 a.m. at the municipal building on Filbert Street (registration is from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.); a pet parade at 9:30 a.m. (registration from 9 to 9:30 a.m.) with judging at 10 a.m., at M&T Bank, Elm Street; and the Princess Pageant ($5 admission) starting at 7:30 p.m.

According to Ned Germini, the week’s activities culminate in the most well-attended and long-running tradition of the festival — the parade, which will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, along Front Street. This is Germini’s first year volunteering for the festival, though he was born and raised in Milton and has looked forward to the event each year, as do so many others.

“It’s just a grand week,” he said. “It’s when Milton steps up and shows its stuff.”

This year, he said the theme is “Harvesting Milton’s Talents,” and that’s what he’s especially tried to capture in the parade lineup. Following a 2019 survey, he said he has taken the suggestions offered by the people seriously and has aimed to include more floats, more music, and more kids this year — and he believes they have achieved that, despite COVID continuing to present a challenge for some groups and organizations to take part.

“The parade is the culmination of the whole week,” he said. “We try to make it a big deal. We spend a lot of time on it.” He added that “Fundraising this year was terrific.”

Other events and activities during the week will include the Little Miss (ages 4 to 6) and Junior Miss pageants at 3 p.m. Sunday at Central Oak Heights Tabernacle, 75 Heritage Road, West Milton ($5 admission). Also on Sunday will be a free Harvest Festival Concert by the Milton Area Community Band at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium; the band is conducted by Brett T. Hosterman.

Monday will feature a Scarecrow Patch for all ages from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. next to the Milton Moose building. The cost is $5 per scarecrow and cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place.

On Tuesday, the second annual Pumpkin Roll will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. on Academy Avenue and Upper Market Street; the cost is $5 per pumpkin, and cash prizes will be awarded for the top three winners. The event will also include food and games this year.

Wednesday will include a block party from 6 to 8 p.m. with music by Tom Starkes; Thursday will feature the Harvest Pops Concert, led by Connie Pawling-Young, at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 102 Lower Market St. ($8 adults, $5 children); and a 5K race will begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, starting at the municipal building on Filbert Street (registration from 7:30 to 9 a.m.).

The Arrowhead Trophy and Harvest Festival Awards will be presented at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 18, at Harvest Festival Headquarters at the YMCA (Broadway side).

The annual festival tradition began in 1977 as the Tomato Harvest Festival and was associated with one of Milton’s claims to fame, Hector Boiardi and the Chef Boyardee plant. The Princess Pageant, which also originated in 1977, provides scholarships and awards for young women in Milton. The Little Miss Pageant was added in 1982, and the Junior Miss Pageant in 1999.

In 2002, the Betty Zechman Spirit Award was created and given to the Princess Pageant candidate who best exemplifies Betty’s spirit of enthusiasm and commitment.

The history of the festival is near and dear to Sue Rearick, who has been serving as the festival chair for the past 11 years. She said her parents had been festival volunteers for many years as well. Her dad did a lot of woodcutting projects, in particular making the scarecrows for the Scarecrow Patch. Now, she said her husband has pitched in on that end.

“It’s a family affair,” she said.

Rearick said each year she likes to decorate the downtown with a particular autumn figure each festival week. This year, it’s crows. Next year, she is already planning on sunflowers.

She said the festival is the biggest event in Milton each year.

“People come home for the festival,” she said. “It’s like a homecoming…it’s nice.”

Admittedly a people person, Rearick said after a year of not having the festival, she is especially looking forward this year to interacting with as many people as possible.

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