Beach breezes. Welcoming waterfront. Energetic entertainment. Flashing fireworks. Escape to the paradise we call Elk Rapids, and revel in family fun at Harbor Days, a Northern Michigan festival with small town charm. Harbor Days kicks off on August 5th and the fun ensues through August 8th. We caught up with Elk Rapids Harbor Days Association President Sherry Steffen to get the inside scoop.

Steffen raised three active kids of her own in the Elk Rapids area. “As a parent, I recall the convenience of the setting and everything being within a comfortable walking distance: the wonderful sandy beach to cool the kids down, plenty of meal choices and the spacious park for relaxing and visiting with friends and neighbors while waiting for the fireworks,” she reflects. “As the kids got a little older I recall how much we all looked forward to volunteering at the water station as a family on North Bayshore for the runners. The kids got pretty good at running along the runners to hand off water without spilling most of it.”

According to Steffen, the Grande Parade on Saturday is the festival’s most popular family event. “Blankets and chairs always seem to pop up as early as allowed to secure the best viewing. Parents and grandparents love to see the kids so excited as the next entry comes down the route. However, the Movie in the Park and the fireworks are right up there with popular family event choices,” she notes.

As for new events this year, Steffen advises that families check out the Great Lakes Timber Show and Junior Knight and Princess Quest, and she personally recommends the free “Walk on Tour” of the Inland Seas Schooner.

The 2015 Elk Rapids Harbor Days celebration should be a special and memorable year for everyone, she says: “The fact that we have hit 60 years and the energy and participation is still so strong makes it exciting.”

Here’s a glimpse of the lineup of family fun events at the 2015 Harbor Days:

Start it off right with Wednesday Night

Each Wednesday night throughout the summer, Elk Rapids hosts Evening on River Street. With the street closed from 6 to 9PM, Downtown Elk Rapids transforms into a vibrant street fair sure to satisfy everyone’s appetite for food, music and entertainment. Beginning at 7PM, the Miss Elk Rapids Court and Harbor Days Board of Directors will present the special Opening Ceremony for the 60th Annual Elk Rapids Harbor Days.

Throwback Thursday—the youngster’s way!

Hear, Ye! Hear, Ye! All junior knights and princesses are invited to dress up for a medieval morning full of tournament-style games, crafts, prizes and a royal feasting table featuring root beer floats courtesy of hometown favorites Ice Cream Peddlers and Northwoods Soda. Join the Elk Rapids District Library for its Junior Knight & Princess Quest, Thursday from 10:30AM until noon.

Harbor Days Has Talent

Aspiring actors, destined dancers and soon-to-be singers will bring the Memorial Park Entertainment Stage to life! Gather ’round the youth talent show in Veterans Memorial Park Thursday from 6:30-9PM and cheer talented tots on as they perform their favorite magic tricks, jokes, songs, lip syncs and dance routines.

Friday: Kids Day, Hooray!

Fuel Up

We know all too well that hungry equals grumpy. Give your kids the energy they need for a Happy Harbor Days by trying out this year’s new Food Truck Garden! Grab some grub from the Mmmm Truck, Pita Cruiser or Dan’s Butts and Beans. You can find the food trucks at the corner of Spruce and River streets from 7AM until 9PM. If fresh fruit is your family’s preferred breakfast style, stop by Elk Rapids’ Friday farmers market at the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce/Rotary Park anytime between 8AM and noon.

Diaper Derby and Toddler Trot

Kick off Kids Day with your mini munchkins! Babies who can crawl but not yet walk may participate in the Diaper Derby–a race in which they crawl from one end of a mat to the other, usually traveling toward a loved one. Next up are the toddlers. If your toddler can walk and is 30 months or younger, he or she is eligible for the Toddler Trot. Watch as they waddle their way to a win! Prizes including diapers, wipes and small snacks are awarded to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place crawlers and walkers.

Sand Sculptures

Collect shells, petoskey stones and any beachy decorations you can find to construct a reigning sand castle! All you need is your shovel, pail and creativity to impress beach goers, festival participants and especially the judges! Castle creation begins as early as noon and concludes at 4PM at Veterans Memorial Park Beach, and prizes are awarded to the top three.

SandCastleCompetition   KidsSackRace

Kids Day Games

Enter the Kids Day Arena of Fun between noon and 2PM by sporting your Harbor Days button. Classic outdoor games and activities are the theme of this popular event for kids 12 and under. Elk Rapids teachers will be stationed in the park for tug-of-war, water balloon toss, sack races, face painting and more! To top it all off, the activities will conclude with a highly-anticipated bike giveaway.

Can You Dig It?

Bring your big empty pockets and a shovel and get digging! The Penny Scramble has been a Harbor Days hit for over 40 years, and each year yields a larger turnout. At 2PM, kids 12 and under can bolt through the beach, all the while scouring the sand for pennies that the Amvets collected thoughout the entire year.

1st Annual Swan Race

Keep your kids close by, because you’ll need the help of a spry eye! Buy a number for $5 that corresponds to the number on a rubber swan, then watch it race down the river to see if it can make it through the chute the fastest. The race begins at 2:30PM on Cedar Street and ends at the mouth of the bay. Cash prizes are awarded to the top three finishers and proceeds benefit the Elk Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fireman’s Waterball

This event is one that consistently captivates everyone, no matter the age! Area firefighters compete in teams of two for the traveling Waterball Contest Trophy by using firehoses–and lots of water–to attempt to push a bottle past their opponents’ goal first. The showdown occurs at 7PM at the east end of Veterans Memorial Park.

Movie in the Park

Celebrate the film Toy Story’s 20th Anniversary by watching it with fam and friends on an inflatable movie screen! Bring your blankets to Veterans Memorial Park by 9:30PM to cuddle up in the cool evening air. You can even snack on some basic theatre concessions!

Mysterious Magician

Award-winning actor, playwright and magician Ben Whiting will be magically appearing all throughout Harbor Days! Whiting has performed in more than 15 countries around the world, but his favorite place to share his tricks is northern Michigan, where he lives with his wife and very good dog.

View the full Harbor Days schedule here


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