Most of the wheat has been harvested, Kansas. Now, it's time to party; the Kansas Wheat Festival kicks off today (Wednesday, July 10) in Wellington. This is year 113 for the wheat festival, and the second official Kansas Wheat Festival.
"This year, we tried to improve on the things that we knew were very popular," said Shelley Hansel-Williams, Executive Director at the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB, a. k. a. wheat fest headquarters. "We looked at some of the contests and things, and asked 'what does this have to do with wheat?', because if you're going to have the Kansas Wheat Festival, you better make sure everything you do centers around that theme." One big change will be seen tonight.
Traditionally Picnic in the Park, one of the largest, most popular events has taken place in Melody Bowl on the West side of town. For 2013, it is moving to a new, bigger location – Sellers Park, on the East side. The picnic features a variety of activities, concluding with a variety show at 7 p.m.; also new this year. The variety show is taking the place of the lip-sync contest of year's past.
Picnic in the Park begins at 6 p.m., with award announcements for several contests beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Wellington Noon Lion's Club will be on hand, selling pulled pork meals, hot dogs for the kids, and homemade french fries. At 8 p.m. the Wellington Heat baseball team will be in action at Hibbs-Hooten Field, located in Sellers Park.
Thursday is full of events as well. There will be a glass making seminar for the kids to enjoy at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the new National Depression Glass Association's Glass Museum, 117 S. Washington. The Mayor's Cookie Jar Contest and Reception is set for 3 p.m. also.
In the evening, it's the ninth annual Wellington Daily News Cow Chip Throw in the 100 block of North Washington. The night concludes with a street dance, featuring the music of performing artists Turnback Creek and Marty Haggard on the main stage on East 7th Street.
Friday is a big day for agriculture enthusiasts. At 10 a.m. begins the Larry Steckline Ag Day at Memorial Auditorium. Vendors, speakers, and presentations will take place until 3 p.m.
At 6 p.m., several events get underway downtown. At 6:30 p.m. is the first Kansas Wheat Festival Donut Eating Contest in the 100 block of South Washington. The Sumner Regional Medical Center Bed Races begin at 7 p.m. The big, Kansas Wheat Festival Parade will take place at 8 a.m. downtown.
Saturday, Sellers Park will be busy again with the family fun day. One milestone to look forward to is the Wheat Festival Antique Rod and Classic Car Show, making it's 30th year at the festival. The Texaco Country Showdown will also be going on at Sellers on Saturday, presented by KSOK Radio.
Page 2 of 2 - At 2 p.m. it will be time to feast with the Amateur Bar-B-Q Cook-off. Then, things shift back downtown at 7 p.m. for the Mudbugs Cajun and Zydeco Band in Heritage Park.
Sunday, July 14, features the Knights of Columbus Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at 201 E. Harvey. The Co-ed Sand Volleyball Tournament will be at McKinley Park, starting at 10 a.m. Wellington High School will play host to the NGDA 39th Annual Convention Glass Show and Sale.
The 113th Kansas Wheat Festival concludes with a free family swim at the aquatic center, 1101 W. Harvey. For a complete list of events and times, pick up a free Kansas Wheat Festival program at various locations around town.
With so many contests to keep track of before anything even takes place during the festival, the chamber of commerce has been brainstorming about how to improve the registration process.
"We're still learning, we just had a discussion about contest entry deadlines," Hansel-Williams said. "Not everyone that comes to town knows that they have to pre-register or sign up for things." The goal is to make it more user friendly for folks that will be visiting.
With the wheat festival getting the official state-wide designation late in the game in 2012, event organizers have been pushing themselves to make the festival bigger, and better in year two, as they've had more prep time.
One behind-the-scenes aspect that has had noticeable changes is having potential state-wide sponsors contact the Chamber, wanting to be a part of the show.
"They heard about the Kansas Wheat Festival, they wanted to be a part of the Kansas Wheat Festival," Hansel-Williams said. "We have to be more open to that kind of thing." And of course, it's never too early to start thinking of ways to step up the game for next year's event.
"We need to give more incentive to our farmers to get involved with the Kansas Wheat Festival," Hansel-Williams added. "Whether that be through the Wheat Show, stepping up the prize money there, or having some kind of farmers recognition."
Now that the plans have been made, the party gets started tonight. The whole state is invited, and don't be afraid to bring a friend – also, don't forget to buy a button, or five.
"This year was all about taking what we already have and making it better," Hansel-Williams said.