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Hay bale contest grows in all directions

RONAN – Tractors rolled into town to set up round hay bales used to decorate for the Ninth Annual Harvest Fest to be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 16.

The Ronan Chamber of Commerce hosts the event and invites people from near and far to experience games for the kids, vendors, crafts and more. There is a climbing wall for people to ascend for a small fee, too. 

Homemade food cooked by contestants participating in the Dutch Oven Cook-off will be for sale. Proceeds go to the beautification branch of the chamber and are put into a savings account for a mural project. 

“When enough money is raised, the murals will be painted on older buildings in town,” said Lana Bartel, chamber member.

More people are participating in the hay bale decorating contest this year to create what’s being called the “Trail of Bales.” In years past businesses, schools, and groups transformed the bales into things like marshmallows, minion characters, a few dogs and a gumball machine, among other things. 

A map included in the Valley Journal was designed to help people find the bales. The project expanded with people participating as far south as Ninepipes Lodge and Kicking Horse Job Corps and as far north as Mud Creek Trail. 

Different agencies with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes ordered a total of 33 bales this year. “They are building some big displays in Pablo,” she said. 

Lana remembers when the contest started in 2014 with 21 bales. She said it has grown almost five times that amount, possibly because people see the fun things that are created and want to see what they can come up with. The event also brings families and the community together before the end of summer. 

The hay bales came from the Bartel farm on Round Butte Road. Bill Bartel donated the use of 97 bales this year. John Bartel, Butch Burland, and Bill Bartel set up the hay bales with tractors, trucks and trailers.

Decorators are asked to wrap the bales before they are painted so the hay can be taken back to the farm and fed to the cows. At the Harvest Fest, people vote for their favorite hay bale creation.

“I’m glad this is judged by a popular vote because I would have a hard time picking a winner,” Lana said. 

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