Celebrating Art and Huckleberries

By Beacon Staff

Residents in Northwest Montana are pretty friendly, often willing to lend a helping hand or give directions to a local attraction. This affability, however, goes right out the window when it comes to a good huckleberry-picking spot.

Indeed, huckleberry season is upon us, and the tiny, gorgeous fruit is in high demand among humans and bears alike. Luckily for the humans, Whitefish hosts the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival, and while there may not be maps to coveted picking locales, there will be huckleberry merchandise to peruse.

Huckleberry Days is one of the biggest art festivals hosted in Whitefish over the summer, drawing in thousands of patrons and more than 100 vendor booths, according to Sarah Stewart, business manager at the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s festival takes place from Aug. 9 to Aug. 11 in Depot Park. Stewart, who organizes the festival for the chamber, said this year’s event would match expectations built up after previous successful festivals.

One of the main attractions at Huckleberry Days is the bake-off. Now in its fourth year, the competition pits local bakers against one another in a challenge to create the best huckleberry-themed dessert in the valley.

“It has just grown over the years to some spectacular desserts,” Stewart said.

There are two categories in the competition, one for commercial restaurants and bakeries and another for non-commercial, hobby bakers. This allows for an even-handed event, Stewart said, and brings even more desserts to the judges’ table.

(In the interest of transparency, it should be noted that Flathead Beacon photographer Lido Vizzutti is a judge this year.)

First prize in the bake-off wins $100, with $50 for second place and $25 for third. Having a cash prize makes it worth the challenge, Stewart said, and it also helps pay for supplies.

Last year’s first prize in the commercial category went to Grouse Mountain Lodge for its double-decker huckleberry cheesecake; What a Crock took second with a huckleberry cheesecake and Montana Coffee Traders captured third with a huckleberry-coconut cupcake.

In the non-commercial category, Cailin Watt took home first prize for her creation, “Huckleberry Napoleon,” followed by Arden Greenwood’s second-place huckleberry bigné and Cliff Willis in third with “Huck-a-coca-va.”

“The judges just have to make sure they’re on a diet for the week after the bake-off,” Stewart said.

Entry for the Huckleberry Days Bake-Off is $5, and entry forms can be downloaded from the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce website.

Watching the competition is free, and some audience members might be lucky enough to share in the entered fare once the judges have had their fill, Stewart said.

“The most you have to make is four for the judges and whatever is left over traditionally you’re allowed to let people taste,” she said.

There is no entry fee for the arts festival in general, Stewart noted, and people should feel free to wander through the 100-plus booths set up for artists and artisans to sell their wares.

The Huckleberry Days Facebook page has information on various artists expected at the show, as well as food vendors. There will be 11 food vendors, without duplicate offerings, she noted, and there will be unique selections, such as deep-fried Snickers bars and deep-friend pickles.

Washington state artist Teresa Harkins, left, helps Whitefish resident Susan Witt pick out a necklace at her Santa Mé booth during Huckleberry Days in 2011 in Whitefish. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

For kids, there will be a bungee-cord jumper and a face-painting booth.

Each artist or craftsperson is vetted before the festival, ensuring that they are selling their own work and not merely reselling other products.

“You’re meeting the artist and they can talk to you about their technique,” Stewart said.

Artistry will include oil paintings, photography, pottery, jewelry and sculptures, as well as other less-common pieces, such as wood-turned salt and pepper mills or the ever-popular antler creations.

Unique, handmade wares and artist availability keep the festival’s atmosphere friendly, a good fit for a Northwest Montana summer.

“When people come to Montana they like that Montana feel,” Stewart said.

The Huckleberry Days Arts Festival takes place from:

11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 9

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 10

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 11.

For more information, visit the festival’s Facebook page or the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce’s website at

www.whitefishchamber.org.

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