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Southern Utah News Front Page: July 30, 2015

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Cooling off at Duck Creek Days

Duncan McClaron, 7, Boulder, Nevada, finds competing in hula-hoop activity during Duck Creek Days on Saturday, July 25, a hair-raising experience. Photo by Mark Havnes.


By Mark Havnes

Special to the SUN

All was ducky at Duck Creek Village last weekend. At least 10,000 visitors gathered in a meadow to celebrate the mountain enclave’s annual Duck Days Festival which offered craft booths, a variety of games, rides, contests and chance to indulge in culinary delights from numerous food booths.

“We have about 40 food vendors this year,” said Dianne Rudnicki, who helped organize the two-day event that started on July 24. “They’re selling everything from frozen cheesecake to chili.”

Rudnicki said the festival, which has been put on in July for about three decades, has grown steadily over the years from an event that started with children’s activities to the spectacle it is today.

That Friday was July 24, and celebrated in Utah as a state holiday, probably helped boost attendance numbers this year.  

Money raised at the event will be used by the village to pay for community projects including maintaining and improving popular all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trails that are major attractions to the area. Rudnicki said there are probably as many ATVs in the area as cars. She said funds will also be raised by selling commemorative, personal bricks for a planned memorial wall. 

In past years, it was not uncommon for billowing clouds to roll through the afternoon, bringing rain and lightning to the festival, but the only thing overhead this year were ravens and hawks soaring in an impeccable blue sky.

The bucolic village, located on Cedar Mountain along scenic state Route 14 about 75 miles northwest of Kanab in Kane County, is especially popular with residents of southern Nevada, who find the evergreen forests and small lakes a perfect place for second-home owners to escape the sweltering summer heat. 

Rudnicki estimates 80 percent of the village’s part-time and permanent residents are from Las Vegas, where she and her husband, Zig, live during the winter months. People from Arizona, California and Utah round out the population of mountain dwellers.

The temperatures Saturday were as cool as the music played by the event’s master of ceremonies and disc jokey, Lance Vansant. Besides selecting great tunes for the entertainment of festival-goers, he coordinated some children’s activities, including hula-hoop and limbo contests, and one even focused on trivia.

“This is like Christmas to me. I’m the biggest kid in the world,” said Vansant, to a nod from the head by his wife, Yvette. 

One of the most popular festival events was a chili cook-off that volunteer and Las Vegas resident Donna Forte said is getting more popular every year.

“It [chili] is easy to prepare and traditional,” said Forte.

The winning chili chefs compete for prizes in two categories, with one category being decided by invited judges and the other by festival-goers. Forte said the  judges look for appearance, flavor, aroma and texture. Winners received plaques and bragging rights.

For $5, the public could taste the chefs’ creations bubbling in big metal pots and filling the air with rich aromas of the Southwest. Bottles of chili were also sold by some competitors and they went fast.

Kyle Wonders, another part-time resident of the village from Las Vegas, was at a tent concocting his own recipe on Saturday. He said the cook-off was a perfect activity for families and friends, strengthening bonds and sense of camaraderie among them.

“It is fun for the kids,” he said, as his 17-month-old daughter, Brynn, chilled out in a blissful sleep on a blanket in some deep grass. Wonders said whatever reputation he has as a chili cook and aficionado comes from word of mouth. While missing his right arm, Wonders is not missing a healthy sense of humor, promoting his version of the dish with a sign on the front of his tent reading, “Lefty’s Lucky Chili.”

While the recipe he uses produces a generally consistent bowl of the red stuff, his father, Dan Wonders, is interested in the subtle variations he gets in every new batch he creates.

“Every time I make my chili, I use the same recipe, but get different results,” the senior Wonders said.  “That is the unpredictablity about it.”

Samantha Stadtlander, chairwoman of the event and member of the Duck Creek Village Association, who owns the town’s TrueValue hardware store with her husband, said the festival is an effective way of promoting the small berg, as well as pulling together other business owners for a common good. She said there are around 6,500 cabin lots in and around Duck Creek, appealing to those drawn to the plethora of outdoor activities in the area. In addition to ATV and snowmobile trails, it is close to southern Utah parks and monuments and locations where fishers can wet a line.

“It’s a great place to plan a vacation,” Stadtlander said.  

Kane County Sheriff Tracy Glover said Saturday afternoon that, for the most part, people had been having a great time. He meant to keep it that way with his contingent of 15 deputies joined by some Utah Highway Patrol troopers and a couple of officials with the state parks department.

He said there were two ATV accidents since Friday, with both victims requiring evacuation by medical helicopter. He said it did not appear the victims were suffering life-threatening injuries.

Sheriff Glover said the crowds appeared to be larger than others he has observed in previous years.

He estimated between 15,000 to 20,000 may have visited the event by Saturday night that ended with a concert featuring the country and classic rock band Muddy Boots from Cedar City. 

Roger Olcott, the five-member band’s front man and singer, said they enjoy performing at the annual event. “The crowd was amazing,” he said.


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