HURRICANE, Washington County — A little bit of pioneer history came to life in Hurricane this Labor Day weekend, bringing friends and relatives together for an old-fashioned celebration of heritage and community spirit.
The Third Annual Peach Days festival on Friday and Saturday offered something inviting for everyone: from a fiddling contest to a karate exhibition, food and craft vendors, a parade, a rodeo, and yes — plenty of peaches. For longtime residents of this southern Utah town, however, the most satisfying aspect of the event was knowing they'd successfully revived a beloved community tradition, one that harkens back to Hurricane's frontier past.
While this year's was called the "third annual" celebration, the original Peach Days event goes back to the turn of the 20th century, when the Hurricane Canal first began bringing life-giving water to the fledgling town. By 1908, residents had planted thousands of peach trees, and the following year the town held its first Fruit Festival.
As the celebration grew over the years, it became a two-day event and was renamed Peach Days. By the early 1990s, the burgeoning festival was moved to the new fairgrounds at the Washington County Regional Park, where it became part of the county fair.
But somehow, Hurricane just wasn't the same, and in 1999, local residents acted on a feeling that many in the community had expressed — bring Peach Days back to its humble beginnings, and celebrate the virtues of small town life.
Vera Hirschi is a lifelong Hurricane resident and a member of the board that orchestrated the Peach Days revival. She said having the event back in town means a great deal to local residents. "Those of us who grew up here — we missed the community spirit," she said. "We all loved the county fair, but we just missed this one. The city voiced a need."
Hirschi said although the town has grown since she was a child, Hurricane hasn't lost its hometown feeling, and community reaction to the return of Peach Days has been overwhelmingly positive. "People have told me that it's just like a big family reunion. They run into people they haven't seen in years."
Now Peach Days is back for good. Hirschi says they keep it small, on purpose, and don't accept any more booths and activities than they can fit on the grounds of the elementary school on State Street. Still, the festival drew an estimated 6,000 visitors last year, and planners anticipated more or the same for this year's festivities.