Seafood Fest, Bridgefest combine

HOUGHTON – As waterfront events occurring on Father’s Day weekend, Bridgefest and Seafood Fest have been intertwined in the public’s mind for years.

The connection between the two is now being made formal, with both organizations rebranding as Bridgefest FEAST.

“We recognized that the Bridgefest committee and brand was a much stronger brand than Seafood Fest, so we just decided to become part of the Bridgefest concept,” said Bill Musselman of the Houghton Rotary Club, who is chairing the Bridgefest FEAST committee. “We’re still separate entities, we’re still separate committees, but this year we’ve agreed among ourselves that the event would be called Bridgefest FEAST, which incorporates the Bridgefest events and the Rotary fundraiser down at Ray Kestner Park.”

Bridgefest events are still being set, but will include the traditional parade between Hancock and Houghton on Friday night, as well as the classic car show near the Medical Arts building and vendors along Lakeshore Drive. There will also be the traditional fireworks on Saturday night. As has been the case for the last few years, it is being dedicated to Jon Davis, an early Bridgefest organizer and the creator of the fireworks display.

Musselman said the events at the park will mostly be the same as the Rotary’s past Seafood Fests, but will incorporate a greater-number of family-oriented activities. The food preparations and sales, previously done by Rotary volunteers, will now include the Library Restaurant & Brew Pub, Habaeros, Fitzgerald’s Restaurant and Michigan Technological University Dining Services. (The latter of those has already been a fixture in the event, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and material.) There will also be a line devoted to the classic Seafood Fest lineup.

“It’s going to be that same type of atmosphere that has been part of this community for 27 years, but in itself is still evolving and trying to become better, so the community gets served better,” Musselman said.

The Rotary will sell beer and wine, supply security and other volunteers, and also provide volunteers for the Bridgefest parade.

Bridgefest was the brainchild of former Daily Mining Gazette publisher Vern Brown, who proposed it in 1988. He based it on an existing celebration centered around powerboat races at another town in which he had worked at a paper. The goal was to give the area’s summer tourism season an early boost.

“They wanted to get it in before the Fourth of July because nothing was happening up here until the Fourth of July,” Musselman said. “It was ‘What can we do to get people to come to town and get people out and start enjoying themselves earlier than that?'”

Most of the years have stuck to that Father’s Day weekend. The weather has seen some wild swings, from 90-degree days some years to rainstorms in others.

Gary Tunstall, who chaired Bridgefest for several years in the 1990s, remembered one year particularly beset by rain. After being rained out on Saturday, the powerboat racers were ready to leave town Sunday morning. Tunstall told them that would be fine – if they returned the $8,000 deposit.

“They got their boats in the water and they did the absolute minimum,” he said. “They went around 27 times or something like that and they packed up and got the heck out of town.”

Rotary member Carrie Richards chaired Seafood Fest for a year in the mid-90s. For its first decade or so, the fest took place under Houghton’s big parking deck. Though insulated from the rain, the elements still came into play. She recalled one year where temperatures reached 101 under the deck – not the ideal temperature when you’re steaming corn on the cob for hours on end.

Another time, they encountered the other end of the thermometer.

“Pete Thomas got locked in the freezer truck one time … no one

was sure how long he was in there,” she said. “When he was rescued, they opened the door and he was sitting on a big box of food eating an ice cream bar.”

One year, after Seafood Fest moved to the waterfront park, a windstorm kicked sand up from the Chutes & Ladders play area. The result, Richards said, was “grit on everything.”

“Regardless of what the weather is going to be, the fact is that

Rotary and the Bridgefest committee and their volunteers, the reason they do all the things that they’ve done over the past 27-28 years is to benefit the community,” Musselman said.

Ferdy Peterlin is one of the four members of this year’s Bridgefest Committee, along with Amy Juntunen, Jim Lightfoot and David Crowley. A member of the committee since its inception, he remembered having to go the extra mile many times. To get wood for the bonfire Bridgefest had in its early years, in a pinch, he made three pick-up trips to the Peterlin Distributing warehouse for pallets. Another early feature was a marathon, which had to be rerouted after landowners on the route pulled out. And “rerouted” meant Peterlin and then-Bridgefest president Chuck Wicker going between the trail and cutting a path with chainsaws over several hours.

They were sweaty and aching at the end, Peterlin said, but “you felt good about it after you’d done it, because you helped out.”

Putting on Seafood Fest takes about 600 man-hours, from 6-year-olds peeling corn to 80-year-olds working security. They work designated shifts, which is actually more relaxed than their old policy, Richards said: the B schedule, as in “be there.”

“We have jobs for everyone, and everyone pitches in,” she said.

In the past 27 years, Seafood Fest has raised a net amount of more than $400,000, every penny of which has gone back into Rotary programs that benefit the community. The Bridgefest money goes back into putting on the next year’s program, much to the confusion of people who’ve told the committee members, “You must be getting rich off this.”

“If you add up the pluses from the minuses, you’re way, way in the red,” Peterlin said. “This would be stupid for me to get involved, if you look at it just from money. But it’s the best event we’ve got, and it showcases our area.”