Carbondale’s Potato Day festival goes ‘Back to Basics’
CARBONDALE – The 101st Carbondale Potato Day festival takes place Saturday, celebrating the town’s potato growing heritage with a parade, farmer’s market, community barbecue, live music and more.
This year’s theme, coming on the heels of the big 100th anniversary last year that featured an extended three-day affair, is “Potato Day 101 – Back to Basics,” returning to the usual, or unusual, one-day festival.
Potato Day has been celebrated nearly every year in Carbondale since 1909. Potatoes were the primary cash crop in the midvalley area from the 1890s to the middle part of the 20th Century, rivaling the famed Idaho potato growers.
“The world-famous Carbondale Potato, second to none other in the United States, is raised here,” proclaimed the Carbondale Item newspaper in 1899.
According to an excerpt from the 1998 history book, “Elk Mountain Odyssey” by Paul Andersen and Ken Johnson, “At first, the celebration was free and featured roasted meat and cream-style potatoes in the skin, all prepared by area ranchers and farmers.
“Starting Friday night, an oak fire heated a huge barbecue pit. Beef was seasoned with sauce and wrapped in cloth, burlap and poultry wire, and when the heat was just right the meat was dumped into the hot coals. The pit was covered with iron doors and eight inches of soil, so any seeping smoke betrayed a flaw in the air-tight seal needed for a good barbecue. Eighteen hours later, the beef was cooked to delectable tenderness and ready for the celebration supper.”
The tradition continues today, right down to the pit barbecue methods, and potatoes are also baked in the pits alongside the meat.
Local farming and ranching families kept the festival alive through the years, even as the potato industry ceased locally, but the tradition nearly came to an end in the early 1990s.
In 1994, the local Zeta Epsilon and Xi Gamma Tau sororities took over the event, and for many years Potato Day has coincided with Roaring Fork High School’s homecoming weekend activities.
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A majority of users of the popular Red Hill Recreation Area north of Carbondale say they would be OK with closing the trails during the muddiest times of the year.