PANGUITCH LAKE — Despite the devastating effects of the Brian Head Fire in June and July, Panguitch Lake is still open for business, and organizers of the “Panguitch Lake Fall Festival” – taking place Sept. 15-16 – hope locals and tourists alike will come support this small community as they continue to recover.
The festival will feature both demonstrations and the sale of pioneer arts and crafts, traditional and modern food vendors, other arts and crafts to purchase, stories of local pioneer families, Native American dancers, games for children and songs of pioneer times.
Sponsored by Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts and the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, this year’s Panguitch Lake Fall Festival marks the third year of the event. However, Art Clark, volunteer for the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts and an organizer of the 2017 festival, told St. George News that this is actually the resurrection of a festival that used to take place at the lake in the 1890s.
For a brief period from 1892 to 1895, Panguitch Lake was the entertainment capital of the American Southwest, Clark said. Traveling troupes would tour to Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and to Panguitch Lake, which at the time had an opera house, horse racing track, numerous hotels and other places of lodging.
“At one time, they had a floating dance floor on Panguitch Lake,” Clark said. “Bands came from California to perform. People came from all over the West. There were thousands of people.”
Besides out-of-state visitors, Panguitch Lake was also a draw for locals. From late June through the end of August – but especially between July 4-24 – locals from as far away as St. George, Moab and Fillmore would come to the cooler climate of the lake to enjoy the entertainment in the opera house, gamble on the horse races, feast on the daily fish fries and watch the dancing and games of the Native Americans who would come from all over Southern Utah to join the revelry.
When Utah became a state in 1896 and outlawed gambling, Panguitch Lake’s glory period ebbed, Clark said. The opera house eventually burned down, the places of lodging fell into disuse and disrepair and the crowds stopped coming. You can still see the oval of the old race track just to the south of the lake.
Previous to the Brian Head Fire, Clark would’ve said the Panguitch Lake Fall Festival existed for two reasons: to revive the memory of the glory days at Panguitch Lake and to turn thoughts and hearts to our ancestors and the legacy they left behind.
This year the fire brought an additional reason for holding the festival: to let people know that while the community is still struggling, they are on the rebound.
Around June 21, evacuations began at Panguitch Lake as the Brian Head Fire – estimated at 11,000 acres at the time – neared the lake. The lake reopened July 2, just before Independence Day, but the traditionally busy holiday was hampered by the fire.
While Clark was fortunate enough that his cabin wasn’t affected, he said the fire burned less than 1,000 feet away. A friend of Clark’s had the side of his home singed by flames. Fortunately the fire didn’t consume the whole cabin, as it did with approximately 14 other structures in the area, Clark said.
“The fire hit a tree, came down the tree, burned the grass underneath the propane tank and burned over to the cabin,” Clark said, adding that he asked the friend if he was going to repaint the side of the cabin that been singed. “And he said, ‘Nope, I’m going to shellac it. It’s going to be there as a remembrance forever.’”
Unfortunately, the problems didn’t stop there. Monsoonal rains in July and August have brought additional complications, as the fire burned vegetation that would normally slow water flow and mudslides.
“The road by us washed out twice,” Clark said. “Our neighbors spent $4,000 trying to put a new road in, and a week later, it washed out. … The bridge washed out, culverts washed out, homes were flooded.”
Despite these issues, Clark said they are persevering, and the Panguitch Lake Fall Festival will go on as planned.
Events will take place at the chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the south shore of the lake starting at 6 p.m Friday, Sept. 15, with a Dutch oven dinner. In addition to the booths, vendors and activities, the weekend will also include performances by Deborah and Adam Grimshaw, Russ and Lindsay Wulfenstein and Clive Romney, one of the original organizers of the festival.
- What: Panguitch Lake Fall Festival.
- When: Sept. 15-16 | Events start at 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 25 W. Highway 143, Panguitch Lake.
- For more information, visit the Panguitch Lake Fall Festival website or email Art Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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