For over thirty years, the Festival of the American West was a northern Utah staple, first at Utah State University, and then at the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville. Now, it’s gone. … Or is it?
The American West Heritage Center saw expansion in many areas in 2006. Improvements to Daily Adventures (its daily summer programming), Overnight Adventures, Big Horse Adventures dinner theatre, Handcart Treks, youth conference hosting, building rentals and other activities have all quietly but substantially increased overall visitation to the site. Most areas more than doubled in guest participation in 2006. It is through areas like those listed above that diversify the Heritage Center’s offerings and stakes, allowing it to avoid “putting all of its eggs in one basket,” as the saying goes.
In 2006, the Festival of the American West itself was both subdivided and expanded into seven festival events, each providing a window to the past via a more focused theme such as food or music or weaponry. The Festival of the American West found itself being the producing agent of these festivals, which were well planned and well received. Though visitation usually did not reach into the thousands like the old Festival did — which can certainly be expected in a first-year situation — the festivals approach did allow the American West Heritage Center to better achieve its mission to provide authentic living history experiences that educate, entertain and enlighten visitors about the west from 1820 – 1920.
What can be expected from the Heritage Center in future years? This is to be found in its ongoing mission of assisting visitors in exploring and celebrating the past through authentic means, and this mission, in the minds of the current staff, cannot be accomplished through one event. Instead, emphasis will be placed on the daily activities that form the real crown jewel of what the Heritage Center does, on its two other major festival events: Baby Animal Days and the Fall Harvest Festival, and on the smaller events such as lectures, workshops, art & quilt shows, and other activities and that make up its yearly programming. In short, the goal of the Heritage Center staff, outside of the two “bookend festivals” to their summer season, is to make every single day into a mini-Festival of the American West. Ultimately, it will be the American West Heritage Center that takes center stage, instead of "The Festival."
Adding guest artisans, crafts, parties, living history demonstrations, and other fun activities each day will greatly enhance the feel and look of the Heritage Center’s Daily Adventures. With lots to see and do each day, and with emphases shifting to many different aspects of historical experience, guests can delve deeper into the various aspects of heritage and history, and do so in a more personalized manner. Another goal is to keep prices affordable so that families and other guests can return several times during the year for widely varying experiences, depending on the emphases and artists who are visiting.
So where did the Festival go? Nowhere. It will still be at its familiar location in the shadow of the lovely Wellsville mountains. And it will be every day, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. As the Heritage Center’s logo reads: Experience it!
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