Nothing signifies fall in Northwest Montana quite like the golden glow of the tamarack tree. These green giants transform each October, lighting up the forest in one last hurrah before winter sets in.
To celebrate these iconic trees, the town of Bigfork hosts the Tamarack Time! Fall Festival on the second Saturday of each October. Local cooks enter their signature dishes in up to 13 categories ranging from pies to pickles in this community affair. No professionals are allowed in this contest — it’s strictly a battle for the home cooks. For just $5, attendees can wander along Electric Avenue sampling cookies, chili, casseroles and more from 1 p.m. until the food is gone — usually within about 90 minutes. There’s even a table for young chefs 14 and under, multiple pie categories and unique eats like ethnic food. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork, earmarked for the Swan River Nature Trail, which the group helps maintain.
The Oct. 12 event will be the 31st annual Tamarack Time!, which got its start thanks to Bigfork residents Elna and George Darrow as a way to celebrate community and the changing seasons. Gretchen Gates and Donna Lawson stepped up after Elna passed away in 2009 and three years ago, Toot Sward took the reins.
“It’s the little sweet festival that is affordable for families,” Sward said. “Most everybody knows everybody whose entering — It’s like the 4-H food competitions without the fair.”
To enter, cooks must bring their dish to Electric Avenue between 11 a.m. and noon, after which judging takes place. Advanced registration is encouraged, but not required. Two judges per category will handle the difficult task of determining the winners of first-, second- and third-place ribbons, and then tasting will open to the public. Competitors are free to enter multiple culinary categories — the more, the merrier.
“One thing is great, five things are even better,” Sward said.
Aside from more than 100 edible entires to sample, there will be plenty to keep the family entertained. Beth Watne’s Birds of Prey display will be located at the sculpture park, adjacent to ShowThyme, and Montana Scene is offering free pumpkins for carving outside its shop from noon to 3 p.m. A number of pumpkins will be provided, but attendees are encourage to bring their own if possible. Beginning at 2 p.m., the Garden Bar will host an Oktoberfest with a limited supply of free brats and beer.
“It was a time for the locals to be able to take back their town,” Sward said of the festival. “The tourists have gone and it’s just the locals here and we can have room to take a big deep breath after summer.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406)758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.