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Carbondale Potato Day attendance reaches quarter-century high

Digging for dinner, Potato Day volunteers clear piles of dirt from the top of an underground oven, in which the meat provided during Carbondale’s 112th annual Potato Day was cooked for nearly two days.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

Beneath partly cloudy skies Saturday, seven members of the American Legion Post No. 100 color guard fired off three rounds each, sending a golden retriever racing down Carbondale’s Main Street and kicking off the 112th annual Potato Day celebration.

Sprouting in 1909, Potato Day began as a harvest festival for the area’s farmers to celebrate another successful growing season, Carbondale Historical Society Vice President Sue Gray said.

Sunlight Ski Resort’s mascot, Sunny Yeti, distributes cans of Sunny Pop on Saturday during a parade in Carbondale, which kicked off the 112th annual Potato Day celebration.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

“Back then, there were few times the whole community could come together, because of the great distances between their homesteads,” Gray said. “So they turned the potato harvest into a sort of party.”



Back then, attendees might participate in the “fattest baby contest,” or compete in the married women’s race for a set of silk stockings, while the younger generations looked forward to a big dance in the evening, where they might meet their spouse-to-be, she said.

Potato Day volunteers extract racks of potatoes Saturday from a below-ground cooking pit in Sopris Park, Carbondale.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

Nowadays, the event is more akin to a farmers market with a smattering of games throughout Sopris Park, live music on the gazebo stage, a cauldron of coffee and a meal cooked underground.



The day’s feast of roasted meat and potatoes is cooked in two large ovens, buried beneath the park and covered with layers of loose dirt.

“It takes some time to form a coal base, but the results speak for themselves,” said Eric Brendlinger, Carbondale Parks and Recreation director. “It’s not quick, though. We started cooking the meat about a day and a half ago.”

Carbondale resident, local artist and illustrator for the Sopris Sun Larry Day sketches Saturday near the potato pits at Sopris Park in Carbondale.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

While it might seem an archaic roasting method, Carbondale’s townsfolk didn’t start cooking the potatoes underground until the last few decades, Gray said.

“Originally, the womenfolk would cook the potatoes at home, then bring them all here for the feast,” she explained.

Dozens flocked to watch city workers and volunteers dig up the meal, including Meredith Bullock, who’s lived across the street from the park since 1982.

Basking in the sunshine Saturday, Ashley Worthington pushes her 2-year-old daughter, Ellie, on the swing at Sopris Park, Carbondale, while rocking her 3-month-old son, Brooks.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

“This is my favorite Carbondale event,” Bullock said. “It’s mostly folks from around the community, and I get a chance to catch up with people I don’t see very often.”

About 350 pounds of potatoes were brought in from local Sustainable Settings, south of Carbondale, and Highwater Farm, near Silt, for the celebration.

“I’ve never seen so many people — in 25 years of doing this — come to Potato Day,” Gray said. “I was worried that we wouldn’t sell all the meals, but now I’m worried we won’t have enough.”

Since its inception, Potato Day has been put on pause only twice: for the Spanish Flu epidemic and during World War II.

A member of the American Legion tosses candy to the Potato Day parade attendees Saturday in Carbondale.
Ike Fredregill/Post Independent

Gray said the town hosted the celebration during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with several safety measures in place, including eliminating the parade, to ensure the event’s legacy remained intact. Saturday’s celebration, however, was somewhat of a return to normal, with a few precautions involving food distribution.

Although serving staff wore masks, and activities were spread out enough for people to socially distance if they chose to, Gray said the festival felt like it was returning to its former glory.

Hailing from Venice, Florida, Jose Requeima browsed the vendor stalls as small children raced around his legs, followed soon thereafter by apologetic parents.

“I came up here to visit — my daughter lives in town,” Requeima said. “Being able to attend this while I’m here, and the weather is so beautiful, it’s just a great experience, great food and great atmosphere.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.


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