ALL HANDS ON DECK FOR 2022 SD CHISLIC FESTIVAL
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
It was a small but important thing that offers a glimpse inside the planning that nobody thinks about.
Last year, two days before the South Dakota Chislic Festival returned to the Freeman Prairie Arboretum, rain fell across the region and wet the grounds of the community, including the gravel walking path/service road that runs just north of where the row of food vendors would set up that Saturday.
Were it not for that rainfall, and had it been windy the day of the festival, the dust from that gravel walking path would have blown directly into the food vendors and been problematic.
Chislic festival organizers made a note: If it doesn’t rain — and it doesn’t look like it’s going to — make sure to get water on the walking path. That’s just one of the many and seemingly inconsequential details those behind one of South Dakota’s biggest and fastest-growing festivals have noted in just four short years.
“We’re a little bit like Schmeckfest and building a big book of what needs to be done this month, and what needs to be done that month, so whoever is on the board can have it a little bit easier,” says Jay Hofer, president of the festival’s board of directors. “But it’s still pretty early in our existence and there are still a lot of things that are fluid. There are still some things that need to be solidified and lessons we will learn this year.”
Those lessons and the ongoing tweaks surrounding the festival’s infrastructure will be identified a week from Saturday, when the fourth South Dakota Chislic Festival plays out on arboretum grounds. The event is set to run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with food, drink and live music setting the scene.
“The biggest question, as always, is how many people are going to show up,” says Hofer. “Last year was right after Covid and people wanted to get out, and we had 8,000 to 10,000 people there. By 11:30 there were tons of people there and it was fast and furious to start the day. Are we still going to have those same numbers or is this year going to be different? With inflation, maybe people won’t want to come and spend money, so there’s a lot we don’t know.”
At the same time, Hofer said, the weekend of the chislic festival has quickly become one that people mark on their calendars and plan events in conjunction with, like family and class reunions.
“The hotel has been booked for months,” said Hofer. “I know a lot of people who have relatives coming in, just because of this. It’s become a destination weekend.”
The biggest challenge that still needs to be solved is filling the volunteer workforce.
“There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to be done, not just the day of, but in the days prior,” he said. “We need to be there early to stay ahead of the game.”
While most of the major logistics have been worked out since the festival moved from the softball field and Swimming Pool Park area in 2018 to the Prairie Arboretum in 2019 — including the primary layout that has remained largely unchanged — there is still the matter of execution. Making sure transporation to and from the Freeman Public parking lot is covered, garbage detail and the management of unexpected developments during the day are just a few of the things that organizers are keeping their eye on.
“We have a timeline for every single board member for the entire day, hour by hour, where they’re going to be and what their to-do list is,” Hofer said. “That’s how detailed and meticulous we have to be on festival day.
“We need everybody to do what we do.”
Among the highlights of this year’s festival will be the scheduled arrival of Dusty Johnson, South Dakota’s lone congressman serving in the U.S. House who will be one of the chislic contest judges, as well as the involvement of the Miss South Dakota organization, who will be at the Kid Zone.
Fourteen food vendors will be selling chislic — the South Dakota Chislic Festival organization itself will have more than 1,000 dozen sticks on hand — and other fair-type foods will also be available. The Menno Fire Department is staffing the beer tent and the Parker FFA will be running a bingo stand.
Two bean bag tournaments hosted by the Menno Pink Ladies are planned, helicopter rides will again be offered and live music will begin at 10:30 a.m. and continue throughout the day.
There will also be non-food vendors selling various products and, fittingly, programs on the history of chislic. Those programs, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., will be led by festival board member Ian Tuttle and Marnette D. Hofer, who is executive director and archivist at Heritage Hall Museum & Archives, the arboretum’s next-door neighbor that will be open during the duration of the July 30 festival.
All of it will unfold at an outdoor venue on the southwest corner of Freeman that couldn’t be better.
“The Prairie Arboretum is such a beautiful setting — it’s perfect and there’s a lot to offer there,” said Hofer, who is grateful to arboretum and Freeman Academy leadership for their willingness to work with the festival. “We 100% respect those grounds and understand that we are a guest there and know what kind of time and energy they have put into creating something beautiful. We take that very seriously and want to make sure we have a working relationship with them for years to come.”
And Hofer noted that festival organizers have worked hard to establish a comfortable environment that is welcoming to all.
“Hopefully that’s the vibe we created there,” he said. “We’ve mentioned plenty of times that this is not a street dance kind of environment. This is a family friendly, fun-filled, positive vibe-type-deal, where people can get outside, enjoying our heritage, our chislic with a nice beer, listen to the music and have a great summer day.”
That thousands will take advantage of that, here in Freeman, is special, he says.
“This is 8,000 to 10,000 people coming to our community and seeing what we have to offer in a single day,” Hofer says. “That is priceless.”