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Brandon Aubry wheels a Burgoo drum on a two-wheel dolly to a trailer to be hauled to the La Salle County Historical Society building in Utica. The drum along with three others will be the outer shell for stew pots used to make stew for this weekend’s Burgoo Festival. This year’s event is expected to draw nearly 300 arts and craft vendors, thanks in part to new, partially-enclosed flea market space that will insulate vendors from bad weather.
Last year’s Burgoo Festival was a big one for the La Salle County Historical Society: The realignment of Route 178 had just been finished and 400 gallons of burgoo stew sold out in a record three hours. This year, second-year burgoomeister Mike Ellerbrock and his team have acquired two more 80-gallon kettles and could, depending on the fluid weather forecast, try to make and sell an unprecedented 560 gallons of pioneer stew. “That’s a lot of stew,” Ellerbrock acknowledged. “It’s challenging, something I’d never done until last year. Making 400 gallons of stew isn’t something you do every day, but it’s a blast.” Extra burgoo stew won’t be the only new twist in this weekend’s Burgoo Festival, which is the society’s biggest fundraiser and Utica’s single biggest draw. Utica firefighters have restored the popular Saturday car show and the society will test an indoor flea market. The festival itself is Sunday, but the fun begins today with a car show sponsored by the Utica Fire Protection District. The show runs 3-9 p.m. Saturday in downtown (registration runs 3-6 p.m.) with awards and raffles distributed at day’s end. The program includes 75 vendors plus live music on a Mill Street stage with music by Hit-N-Miss at 5 p.m. and Red Sulfur Springs at 7 p.m. The festival kicks into high gear Sunday when some 300 vendors swarm the village and the music kicks up with all-day lineup beginning with Ottawa Dance Academy at 9 a.m., followed by reprise performances by Hit-N-Miss and Red Sulfur Springs at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively. The New Doodledorfers perform at 12:30 p.m., following by Col. Boyd’s Dixie Land Band at 1 p.m. and the La Salle-Peru Township High School marching band at 3 p.m. The musical program concludes with the Templetons performing from 2:30-4:30 p.m. “We have a great lineup of musical acts for all ages as well as additional activities that are both kid- and family-friendly,” Mark Shafter, Burgoo chairman, reported in a letter to society supporters. “There is sure to be something for almost everyone.” One not-so-new theme festival organizers hope to avoid is inclement weather. The last few Burgoo Festivals have been unseasonably warm or cool and this weekend’s forecast is less than reassuring. The Weather Channel forecasts seasonable temperatures of 77 degrees Saturday and 71 degrees Sunday, but with a chance of rain (30 percent and 20 percent, respectively) both days. Then again, the possibility of rain spurred the historical society to make an ambitious acquisition that could come in handy this year: Canal Market. Earlier this year, the historical society purchased an office building and lumber shed from the former Utica Elevator Co., both located south of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and east of Route 178. The offices will be used for society staff and for storage — protecting precious artifacts from floods — while the lumber shed was converted into an enclosed flea market with 26 inside booths and 28 outside booths. The pricier inside booths had not, as of Wednesday, sold out; but Doug Holland, president of the historical society, anticipates some last-minute interest from some of the 290 vendors that have signed up for Burgoo. “We are close,” Holland said of the push to fill Canal Market. “We were hoping everything would be sold out on the outside of the building and that still might happen.” One other change visitors will notice is the “streetscape” program, a beautification project being completed along realigned Route 178. The Illinois Department of Transportation farmed out a $460,000 contract to Copenhaver Construction, Inc. of Gilberts, which has laid huge, decorative limestone blocks along Route 178 and will gradually plant trees and shrubs. The goal is to create a natural look that complements nearby Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks. “From the Interstate 80 interchange reconstruction to the attractive wayfinding signs pointing the way to Utica businesses and attractions, the Route 178 project in Utica was a masterpiece of engineering and community cooperation,” said Julia Messina, community liaison for the Illinois Department of Transportation in Ottawa. “The streetscaping stonework and plantings are a beautiful final touch to an extraordinary project in a great community.”