By Charlie Holmes
The Daily Star
---- — Red, orange and yellow leaves painting the hillsides. Pumpkins sitting on each stair leading up to a front porch. The smell of apples and cinnamon. These are a few of the traditions people look forward to in fall. Locally, there’s another item that makes the list for many -- the Cooperstown Rotary Club’s Annual Applefest. The event took place at the Fly Creek Cider Mill this past weekend.
“I think Applefest creates family traditions,” Applefest Chairwoman Angie Erway said. “It’s great to be a part of that and it’s also for a cause – the money goes back into the community.”
Beneficiaries of the event include local food banks; Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs; and Rotary’s exchange student program.
“We depend on Applefest to allow us to take four students or five, instead of two or three,” the chair of the exchange student program, Doug Geertgens, explained.
Geertgens says that a big portion of the exchange program’s approximately $10,000 annual budget comes from Applefest. The money allows the program to provide the students with a small monthly stipend so they have some spending money, to host a monthly luncheon for the students who come to stay in the local area and to take care of any expenses that arise from the school activities the students participate in while living in Cooperstown.
Geertgens said there are five exchange students in the area now. “We have a boy from Australia who arrived in January ... and then we have four students who arrived this fall – a boy from Mexico, a boy from Hungary, a girl from Thailand and a girl from India,” he said.
Three of the exchange students were helping run Applefest on Saturday.
Applefest started trying to have an impact on the education of children in another way last year by running a literacy drive. Area Rotarians and SEFCU make the drive possible by donating books.
“We take for granted that children don’t actually get read to at night when they get home,” Erway said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen much anymore with all the video games and everybody being so busy. We just thought it would be great for them to come in, get a book and have someone take the time to sit down and read with them. Hopefully that’s something their parents can continue to do at home.”
The club has held Applefest at the Fly Creek Cider Mill for the past 16 years.
“We supply them with a lot of stuff, but it’s totally their festival,” Bill Michaels, co-owner of the Fly Creek Cider Mill, said about the Cooperstown Rotary Club. “They make about $20,000 a year off of it.”
The Fly Creek Cider Mill’s cider press runs during the event.
“It’s an 1889 water-powered, water-hydraulic cider press installed here from the Boomer and Boschert Company in Syracuse, New York,” Michaels said. “We make all of our cider on it on weekends, generally from Labor Day through just before Thanksgiving.”
The mill is making improvements to the press this year. The turbine is being restored and the holding tank is being newly fabricated.
People who visit the mill have an the opportunity to learn how the cider is made from mill employees who talk them through the process as it is happening.
Michaels says the building always had a cider mill, but at one time it also had a grist mill upstairs and a wood shop with a water-powered jigsaw downstairs. The jigsaw is responsible for a lot of the decorative pieces that can be seen on the houses around Fly Creek.
“We’re the last of, I think, eight mills on Fly Creek,” Michaels commented. “Fly Creek was a lot more easy to control than the Susquehanna because it’s smaller. This was the furthest north mill so if this mill was processing then the next mill was processing because they’d shoot the water to one another.”
Besides being able to witness the cider press in action the approximately 5,000 people who attended Applefest this past weekend were also able to make themselves a scarecrow, listen to live music, play carnival games, and participate in the silent auction or the raffle of gift baskets.