As the days grow shorter and leaves begin to turn, Bend moves away from its traditional high tourism season. But the Bend Fall Festival, an October tradition, is a reminder that there’s still plenty to do in Central Oregon once summer fades into autumn.

On Saturday, the first full day of the 2017 Bend Fall Festival, sponsored by First Interstate Bank, downtown streets were lined with tents housing vendors selling crafts, paintings, local food and plenty of beer.

Bands were just beginning to play on the main stage on Saturday afternoon, near the intersection of NW Oregon Avenue and NW Bond Street. Hand-painted pumpkins and inflatable bounce houses lined the nearby family fun area.

“It’s a fun, beautiful event,” said Michael Coe, event coordinator for Lay it Out Events, which began producing the Fall Festival this year.

Above the tents, trees lining NW Wall Street had red and yellow leaves beginning to fall, and low, gray clouds from the western half of the state breezed across the otherwise-sunny sky: a prototypical blustery fall day in Central Oregon.

Coe said Fall Festival, in its current iteration, is a newer event than other large seasonal events like the Bend Summer Festival and Winter Festival. Because the festival takes place during a shoulder season, with fewer tourists in town, Coe said it tends to be less hectic than the summer and winter events. In a typical year, the festival draws between 17,000 and 25,000 people to downtown Bend over its three-day run, according to Coe.

He added that this gives the Fall Festival more of a local feel than some of the other large events in town, with activities like pumpkin carving taking center stage.

“It really has, overall, more of a county fair feel to it,” Coe said.

The main event Saturday afternoon was the pie-baking contest, where approximately 20 pies were evaluated by four judges on their crust, taste, filling and appearance. Kirsten Morrell, coordinator for the Harvest Market portion of the festival, said the contest was initially for pumpkin pies, but expanded this year to include everything from rhubarb to a cardamom, vanilla and pear mix.

Indeed, the grand prize went to Bend resident Amanda Upton, 21, for her savory potato and pork shoulder pie. Upton said she had never entered a pie competition before, but added that her mix of curry and other spices helped the pie stand out from the pack.

“If you want to try something different, don’t be afraid to get really creative with food,” Upton said.

For more than 100 local artists and small businesses, the festival is an opportunity to not only sell products, but also to make connections with other Bendites, according to Ashley Chase, founder of Bend-based Birdseed Foods, which sells low-sugar granola in several local stores. The business was founded in March, and Chase said having the platform of a large festival has been instrumental in getting the word out about the company.

“I’ve gotten to connect with a lot of people and meet other startups around town,” she said. “It’s been really fun.”

The festival is scheduled to begin again Sunday, its last day, at 11 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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