Humungus Fungus Festival
in Crystal Falls, MI, USA
Humungus Fungus Festival
Words by Maxine Sommers
Crystal Falls, Michigan, built in 1880, is a picturesque, vintage city. The municipality (current population 1,792) developed from early iron mining and timber explorations. It is located in Northern Michigan's Upper Peninsula and has grown from its first settlers' shacks to a prosperous small community that joins in preserving a partnership with nature in safeguarding a natural setting for itself.
The town is unique - it is built on a steep hill with its main street dominated by the historic Iron County Courthouse. The building is an imposing structure constructed in the style of the 1800's and is listed in the National Registry. The locale is primarily rural, which allows residents to enjoy a slower-paced, fuller life style, free from the stress of the larger metropolitan areas.
It is an unspoiled paradise, where you can share the silence of the wilderness, and yet are not isolated from humanity. Untamed river settings prevail amid vast forests that are filled with typical northern hardwoods whose leaves turn into flaming colors at the first hint of frost in the fall.
It is not uncommon to see the first leaves donning their fall brilliance at the end of August. Visitor's alert: If you plan on visiting Crystal Falls during the summer months, bring a jacket or sweater. Some of the days are down-right cold and the nights get chilly.
Summer, with all the relaxation it implies, is a time of outdoor enjoyment. This is when the lakes are at their best and solitude is easily obtained. The surrounding area has a bit of everything for visitors including: biking, bird watching, canoeing, golfing, rock hunting, boating, sailing, and swimming. Photo opportunities are a constant. Taking in the scenery is like watching a prize-winning full-color travel video.
The forests are populated with small game, deer and Michigan black bears. Drivers are directed to use caution, since both the deer and bears have the right-of-way on the highway. My own thought-with regard to a bear confrontation is: who in their right mind would argue with a big, five hundred pound black bear? If a bear and I find ourselves on the same stretch of roadway I am happy to stop, sit, and wait my turn.
I was raised in Crystal Falls. Our family home was located in a secluded location about one mile from the school. I worried about wild animals while I trudged through a heavily wooded area each day to reach my classroom. On one occasion, I asked my father what I should do if I came upon a bear. My dad, a man of few words, smiled and replied, "Run like hell for home!" I assume that advice still holds true.
The last time I visited Crystal Falls I had three bear sightings: the first time, an old, shaggy fellow raced my car alongside the highway - he won; on the second occasion, as I drove up to a restaurant located on the outskirts of town, I was startled to see a mama bear and her cub, casually roaming across the back yard looking for snacks. I did not hang around to see if they were pleased with the menu. The third bear event was the greatest adventure ever! With a friend's voice cautioning "DON'T GO, IT'S TOO DANGEROUS!" ringing in my ears, I hiked out into the heavily-wooded forest to bear-hunt with my camera. It was a once-in-a-life-time experience and one that is covered in a separate story.
Visitors have a wide assortment of marvelous parks to frequent in the Crystal Falls area, such as: Runkle Lake: a good beach with ample camping facilities; Pentoga Park: a spacious region on Chicaugon Lake which has a great area for camping, it also includes an Indian burial ground, that is preserved as a shrine to the Ojibwa Indian Tribe; and Bewabic State Park: a wooded area with wide green lawns, a sandy beach, tennis courts, and picnic facilities suitable for families.
Crystal Falls is a small town that celebrates in a BIG way. It holds two special festivals each year-The Humungus Fungus Fest (in August) and the Harvest Festival (in September).
What is a Humungus Fungus you ask? Several years ago a "humungus fungus" (a GIGANTIC mushroom) was discovered in the Crystal Falls area. It weighs roughly 11 tons and covers 37 acres. This makes it the largest mushroom (fungus) in the world - it's hard to believe this monster mushroom is growing in Michigan and not Texas! Based on the average rate of growth through the soil, the Humungus Fungus is probably more than 1,500 years old.
After the benevolent giant mushroom was discovered it did not take long for the city fathers to decide to share this wonder with the world - hence "The Humungus Fungus Fest" was born.
For three days each August tourists and locals alike celebrate this giant fungus phenomenon with a spectacular celebration. There are an extensive assortment of activities such as a Buckboard and Horseshoe Tournament; a Tube Float - here's your chance to float down a river on an old tire tube; or register for the Volley Ball or Golf Tournament. If your tastes run to a more sedentary pastime you can begin the day at the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Hall for a Pancake Breakfast then view the Fungus Fest Parade, watch the softball game, or gobble up ice cream at the Ice Cream Social then toddle on over to the Pie Social for home made pies. If you are still able to walk the Salad Luncheon at St. Mark's Church offers tasty culinary selections. At the end of the day pull up a chair and view a fabulous fireworks display - a bang-pow! conclusion for a fabulous event.
In September the Harvest Festival blows into town. While it is not as unique as the Humungus Fungus Festival it does have its charm because the whole community participates.
The High School Band begins the festivities with their best foot tapping music. A large selection of vendors offer their wares in the Antiques and Crafter's Flea Market. Shoppers alert: this is the place you will discover those hidden treasures that have been resurrected from antics in remote historic homes. Or try the Farmer's and Gardener's Market with all their farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. Driving on to another destination? Take a supply of produce along with you.
There is food galore: warm-from-the-oven baked goods, spicy sausages, pizza, dessert crepes and home-cooked Michigan chili, just to name a few sensational edibles.
Be sure to join in the "Pasty Eating Contest." What is a pasty, you ask? A melt-in-your-mouth delicacy brought to the United States by the early Welsh settlers. This little bite of heavenly fare (meat and potatoes wrapped in a flaky crust) is a staple part of the diet for the folks that live in Upper Michigan's Great North Woods.
To top off the event a Community Dance is held in the evening. Participants bring their favorite covered-dish for a pot-luck supper. The meal is shared before the dancers take to the floor to polka until they can't take another step. Downright exhilarating!
If you would like to learn more about the small-town with the big-heart - Crystal Falls, Michigan, U.S.A.- visit the following website: http://www.crystalfalls.org, for accommodations, exact dates, or travel information with maps.