Culver Fall Fest hopes to begin new tradition, off-season excitement to town

It's well-known that Culver is regarded, to a large extent, as a "summer" community as a destination spot. Several area merchants, in conjunction with the Culver Chamber of Commerce hope to move towards changing that image while bringing to fruition a long-discussed suggestion here: a community-wide, autumn event which takes advantage of the beauty and charm of Culver as a backdrop.

Talk of the Culver Fall Fest, which takes place the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20, started during the depths of last December, explains Susie Mahler of Cafe Max, when a number of local merchants discussed "something to drive traffic downtown -- we had a great brainstorming session and decided, 'Let’s just pick something and do it!'"

Part of the drive, of course, from merchants' point of view, is that summers in Culver are incredibly busy already. Many local businesses, however, struggle immensely to bring in revenue the rest of the year. At the same time, many locals have, over the years, bemoaned the lack of activity options outside of Culver's hectic summer months.
With that in mind, says Mahler, a February meeting brought together representatives of a variety of local entities to begin firming up plans and assigning duties.

At least one longtime Chamber-sponsored activity is hoped to gain new life and expansion.

"We decided to run with the scarecrow contest and build off that," explains Mahler.

Some major difference in the "new, improved" iteration of the contest were gleaned from other communities who hold similar events.
First, the Chamber is requesting scarecrow creators will allow the organization to keep their creations and bring them out again next year. Not only will the relative lack of scarecrows on Culver's streets in recent years be alleviated, but the community will hopefully be vibrant with them, and some are likely to become old favorites, year after year.

Secondly, in a shift in rules from prior years, businesses and organizations are now allowed to openly name their business or group on their scarecrows, in hopes that the event will also serve as a promotional booster for local entities.

And on top of everything else, there are $200 in cash prizes available.

Scarecrows can be added right up to the festival itself, and should be delivered with a photo of the assembled scarecrow, and entrants may set up their scarecrow by 10 a.m. Oct. 16. Call 574-842-LAKE or visit to register.

Another facet of the festival hoped to be a boon to local entities and businesses is the opportunity for street vendors during Saturday's downtown festivities. Booths are only $25 (or $15 for Chamber members), says Mahler, and organizers are encouraging not-for-profits, especially to consider viewing Culver Fall Fest as an opportunity to raise needed funds for the year, something she notes works quite well for various non-profits in Plymouth during Blueberry Festival.

"It's a great time, right before Halloween," she says. "You can sell fall items, or freezer things for Christmas."

She notes Culver's Young Farmers, for example, are sponsoring Saturday's corn hole tournament as a means of hopefully raising funds and increasing outreach into the community.

One example of local youth working together to benefit other youth is the Culver Youth Community Organization (CYCO), a partnership between the Culver Comm. High School and Culver Academies service clubs, and their commitment to organize, construct, and host a haunted house in the Culver beach lodge Saturday night. Mark Damore, of the Original Root Beer Stand, is making his famous Halloween decoration collection available for the event, which Mahler says will have a younger child-oriented period during its early hours and more teen appropriate vibe in its final period.

Another youth-related component of the festival is the decision to make Sunday a "kids day" (not that adults aren't welcome and won't enjoy themselves). Bringing more community youth volunteerism into the equation, Culver Academies' service club, with adult sponsors, will assist youngsters in face painting and pumpkin painting (the $3 fee includes a take-home pumpkin).

As festival schedule indicates, Sunday's festivities include two live performances by nationally touring marionette program Stevens Puppets, of the seasonal-friendly "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," as well as readings from local children's author Jack Johnston, live music, and a judged pet costume parade.

Youth will have an opportunity to expand their creative horizons Saturday, as well, by way of Unlocked Creativity's Shelly Schrimsher, who will offer two special art classes at the depot. It's important to head online to pre-register at (there is a fee and space is limited).

Among Saturday's other offerings is the return (at 7 p.m.) of last year's Moonlight Paddle, in which a number of canoes were provided by Culver Academies for a row, under the nearly full moon, from the town beach to Long Point and back. It was -- and will be again this year -- all kicked off with a retelling of Culver's longstanding, 19th century historical ghost story, that of Potawatomi Chief Pau-Koo-Shuck, and concluded with a cheerful bonfire on the beach, with hot dogs and other treats provided by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver.

New this year will be the addition of Stand Up Paddleboards provided by Ed and Becky Furry's Sail22 of Culver. More details will appear in the coming weeks in the Citizen.

Also from the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver is the debut of Culver history hayrides from 4 to 6:30 p.m., starting from the depot.

The idea is something of a revival of popular Culver history bicycle rides which the AHS co-sponsored in years past, but with the intention that people of all ages -- and entire families -- can participate (and needn’t be adept at bicycling!). A tractor will pull the hay wagon through Culver, stopping at a handful of locations briefly while Jeff Kenney of the AHS relays historical information about nearby sites and buildings for participants. There will likely be around three trips of the wagons, and there is a small fee for the trip.

Local artists not always very visible will have a chance to shine as a sort of "kickoff" of the festival Friday evening, at a "meet and greet" reception at 110 S. Main Street from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The artworks will remain on display throughout the weekend.

Also announced during that Friday event will be the winners of the scarecrow contest.

Evening entertainment of a more "grown up" sort is offered Saturday starting at 4 p.m. when the Culver Coffee Company revives its annual beer garden with live music, and later at 9, when the Lakehouse Grille hosts the Beautiful Disaster band.

The festival, Mahler emphasizes, is aimed at "bringing all ages and demographics together."

"It's a way to spend hopefully a fun day getting to know your neighbors and local merchants."

For a complete Fall Fest schedule, visit