By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The Prairie Days celebration in Lester Prairie will move to a new month and a new location in 2009.
Since its inception in the mid-1990s, the festival has taken place in mid-June.
The Prairie Days committee decided last Monday to move the event to Friday and Saturday, July 17 and 18 next year.
Organizers hope that the move will increase attendance at the event.
“There is so much going on with other communities that (June) weekend. We just don’t seem to be getting the numbers we would like to see,” committee chairman Scott Christenson explained.
The other major change for the event will be the location.
In recent years, most of the events have taken place at the city park, which is located on the south side of Second Avenue South.
Next year, most of the events will take place in the new downtown park near the intersection of Central Avenue and Juniper Street.
“We are going to move everything up there, and put the big tent up there,” Christenson said.
The downtown park is situated on land owned by the McLeod County Rail Authority on the former Dakota Rail Line.
A committee has been working on a design for the park for two years. It includes a gazebo, lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping.
Future plans include a Legion memorial on the northwest corner of the site.
The city council recently approved bids for the project, and construction will begin next spring.
The gazebo will be constructed using volunteer labor.
Moving the event downtown will be going back to its roots, in a way.
“We originally had it downtown,” Christenson said.
Not only will the move bring more people into the downtown area, it may encourage people to stay at the event longer.
Christenson said that in recent years, events have been spread out across the city.
The parade takes place on the Saturday night of the event, and people who leave the park to watch the parade may not go back to the event after the parade, Christenson said.
There has also been discussion about the Lester Prairie Ambassador Program conducting its coronation in the new gazebo instead of at the school where it has been in the past, Christenson said.
Softball tournaments will continue to take place on the fields at the city park.
The committee has been discussing ideas to make the festival more popular.
One new event that the committee has been working on that may be on the schedule in 2009 is a modified demolition derby. This is different than the traditional demo derby that has been part of the event in the past, and it could draw participants from a five-state area, according to Christenson.
He described it as an “anything goes” contest.
He said the committee is still thinking of things to do and planning for next year’s event.
“We are always looking for ideas and volunteers to help with planning and work at the event,” Christenson said.
Anyone who has ideas for the event or who would like to volunteer can contact Christenson at (320) 395-2172.
Christenson said Prairie Days was started by Greg and Connie Gatz as a way to raise funds to buy equipment for the Lester Prairie Fire Department.
It was known as Longhorn Days until three years ago when the name was changed to Prairie Days.