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By Bailey Appelhans


BELVIDERE – The 34th Annual Autumn Pioneer Festival, held by the Boone County Conservation District, took place on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27 at the Roger Gustafson Nature Center and Festival Grounds in Belvidere.

The Pioneer Festival is a yearly public event in which people can experience what life was like in the 1800s. Families drove through the Appleton Road entrance to get inside the park, where they were shuttled off on a wagon to the festival grounds that’s transformed into a pioneer village every fall.

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Volunteers, adorned in pioneer or Native American clothing, walked the grounds as they engaged people in activities like tomahawk throwing, fire starting, crosscut-sawing, and more. Even the 2015 Boone County Fair Queen and Little Miss took part, helping children make dolls out of yarn.

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Two authentic 1800s log cabins and a schoolhouse, where people were able to walk in, explore, and learn about pioneer living, stood on the grounds. Visitors also walked through ethnic gardens and a Native American village area, accompanied with teepees.

Vendors sold a wide range of products, like jewelry, blankets, fire starters, and forged metal. Food vendor offerings included prairie chicken, pioneer fries, buffalo stew, pie and ice cream, doughnuts, popcorn, old-fashioned root beer, and lemonade. As people sat and ate their food, a live folk band performed for them.

The festival was open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, with an opening ceremony being held that morning, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, with a closing ceremony being held that afternoon. The grounds were also open Friday, Sept. 25 in the morning for schools from the local area to come visit.

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The Nature Center is a part of the Spencer Conservation Area, where several Boone County Conservation District sponsored educational programs are held. The area is known to have been a campsite for nomadic visitors in the past, as Native Americans once heavily used the Kishwaukee River as a means for trade.

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