Potato Day 2022, poster art by Will Tempest

For 112 years, through two pandemics, ‘Bonedalers have harkened the fall with a celebration of spuds. At the time of the very first Potato Day, 1910, Eugene Grubb had just published his book, “The Potato” and Irish immigrant Thomas McClure’s red variety, unique to this valley, was gaining national prestige.
“The Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley section of Colorado is as nearly perfect in soil condition as can be found,” Grubb stated in 1912, “and the potatoes grown [here] are not excelled anywhere in the world, and are equaled in but a few places.”
By the 1930s, hundreds of rail cars carried thousands of tons of spuds from the Valley each year. Although this enterprise began fading in the 1940s, with mechanized farming techniques not apt for our local rolling hills plus labor shortages, Potato Day reminds the denizens of Carbondale that their settler roots are literally a root — the delicious and strange potato, domesticated by the Incas of modern Peru more than 9,000 years ago.
On Oct. 1, all are welcome to remember this history with the 113th annual Potato Day celebration. This year’s theme, “Marble Mash” is especially historic, marking the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial, constructed with Colorado Yule Marble from Marble, Colorado. It took 600 train cars to transport the finished marble for the Lincoln Memorial to the nation’s capital. The haul included 1,800 stones, weighing as much as 30 tons each.
Named for George Yule, a prospector in the late 1800s, this pure white marble was uncovered in the Ragged Mountains in lieu of silver and gold. By 1905, the Colorado Yule Marble Company had established the largest marble finishing mill in the world.
Along with the old, comes the new. In recent years, The Sopris Sun joined a Potato Day planning committee together with the historical society, rec department, local ranchers and schools, KDNK, and the committee keeps growing with diverse participation.
By popular demand, a Friday night dance will return. In association with the local contra dance group, caller Andrea Cohen and the Wooden Nickel String Band invite the community to a barn dance at the Third Street Center on Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Anyone intimidated by partner dancing needn’t worry, Cohen will guide each twist and spin for an experience accessible to dancers of all ages and abilities.
“Historically, a community dance was part of it,” said Parks and Rec Director Eric Brendlinger. After last year’s event, meeting with some of the “oldtimers,” Brendlinger heard feedback from Ernie Giannenetti in particular that an evening dance was sorely missed.
On Friday night, members of the Giananetti family will also be stoking a fire in the pits beneath Sopris Park for the annual barbeque… with Nieslanik beef slow cooked luau-style, underground with burning coals.
The resonant heat will bake potatoes and roast corn on Saturday, wafting fragrances into the autumnal air to rival those of the boiling cauldron of cowboy coffee a short distance away.
This year, for the first time ever, the local Rotary club will serve up a pancake breakfast before the annual parade, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at 4th and Main. The menu includes sausages, orange juice and coffee from Bonfire with pancake batter donated by the Village Smithy.
The parade departs from 2nd Street, in front of KDNK, at 10:30 a.m. and it’s not too late for businesses, school groups, political parties, hobbyists or any other type of association to join in by contacting jrochel@carbondaleco.net (970-510-1290).
Ross Montessori will again host the Tater Trot fun run with registration at 4th and Main at 8:30 a.m. There will be a farmers and artisan market open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sopris Park. KDNK’s record sale returns, along with live music from Pam and Dan and the Hell Roaring String Band, also in the park. And the highly cherished Youth Gymkhana will conclude it all with a mini-rodeo competition at the Gus Darien Arena from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The historical society, meanwhile, has organized a number of classic potato games, such as potato tossing and sack races, in addition to two new competitions, Potato Sculpting and Marble Statue.
To enter the Potato Sculpting contest, one must peel a potato, carve it and post a photo on the Carbondale Annual Potato Day Facebook page (#CarbondalePotatoDay); there are four categories: 1. the Lincoln Memorial, 2. most representative of the town of Carbondale, 3. most representative of the town of Marble and 4. most creative overall. Entries are due by Sept. 29.
The Marble Statue competition requires contestants to arrive at Sopris Park on Oct. 1 dressed as a marble statue. They will line up in front of the Gazebo at 11:15 a.m. When music plays, the statues must dance. When the music stops, they will freeze. Contestants will be judged by applause from the audience and prizes awarded for first, second and third place.