by Anastasia Penchi
Spring has finally arrived, so it’s time to begin planning the summer festival season. Sure, everyone is familiar with Oktoberfest, but have you ever attended any of the area’s lessor known festivals?
Kicking off the festival season is Sparta’s Butterfest. Less than 25 minutes from La Crosse, Sparta calls itself the “Bicycling Capital of America” because it had the first rail bed in Wisconsin to be converted into a bike trail. It’s known for its scenic biking, and it also houses the junction of the Elroy-Sparta and La Crosse River bike trails.
But there is more to Sparta than just biking — there’s butter. Please keep the following in mind if you are attending Butterfest:
1) Yes, Butterfest really is celebrating butter.
2) This festival has one of the best parades for kids.
I spent years dragging my oldest son to festivals when I was a single mom working weekends as a newspaper reporter, and he soon became festival savvy. He looked forward to the Butterfest parade. For whatever reason, parade participants tend to hand out the goods. Maybe it’s because it’s the first big festival parade of summer? I’m not sure, but I distinctly remember a certain 7-year-old running after a guy walking the parade route handing out ice cream from a rolling cooler. My son was later seen drinking chocolate milk. He gorged on candy. What’s not to love? Besides, don’t you want to watch Lady Butterfest and Miss Sparta do their fancy, practiced waves?
3) You can make a game out of who finds Little Ben Bikin’ first.
Little Ben Bikin’ is the live version of the 32-foot fiberglass statue of a guy on an old-fashioned bicycle, which sits on the corner of Water Street and Highway 16 in Sparta. This is a “penny-farthing” bike with a large front wheel designed to bike fast in the olden days. The live Little Ben Bikin’ visits Sparta events and takes pictures with attendants. He also sports the same fancy mustache and red overcoat as the fiberglass guy. And if you can’t find the live guy, just go have your picture taken with the original. Thanks to technology, fiberglass Ben Bikin’ now talks about Sparta and the activities happening there, too, so no one will be the wiser.
4) There is a cow milking contest.
Yes, you read that right – a cow milking contest. Most butter comes from cows – hence the contest. While local dairy farmers may not get too excited about another days work, city folk are likely to get a big kick out of this annual event. It’s one of Butterfest’s biggest draws, and is hosted by the Monroe County Junior Dairy Club. In it, teams compete against each other, and the team that gets the most milk in four, one-minute rounds wins. Other area fest royalty also join Miss Sparta Royalty and Butterfest Festmasters in a fun milking competition. Why not show your kids where milk really comes from? And if you’re really passionate about it — sign-up. Each year, they feature four amateur teams and four professional teams in the contest. You could be milking Bessie before you know it.
5) Butterfest meets all the requirements of a good summer festival.
There is music by Larry and the Drifters, Back Home Boys, Chasin’ Mason and the Dweebs. There is good food. There are carnival rides. There is a flea market, as well as a craft show. Come join the fun and officially kick off your summer of fests.