Sep. 6—SMITH LAKE — Who needs a far-flung Labor Day getaway when there's a sweet bushel of fun beckoning from your own backyard? Local folks looking for adventures close to home seized the opportunity by the roots this weekend, heading to Smith Lake Park to check out this year's Sweet Tater Festival — a Cullman County original now in its 25th year.
The weather was right for both days of the fest, with the weekend rains politely waiting until after hours to move through the area. That made the park a pleasant, not-too-hot escape for guests like Madison County's Roberta Weiss, a Sweet Tater first-timer who may have just discovered a new Labor Day tradition for her family.
"This is such a hoot!" she said. "I saw it on Facebook and thought, 'Why not?' Our kids are at the beach but I had to work this weekend so I stayed home...[but] I think I may just get everyone to come down here and do Sweet Tater next year."
Both guests and vendors were out in force this year, after turning out for a truncated, one-day festival scaled back for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's festival had the typical lineup of food, arts & crafts, and kids' bouncy houses and petting zoo — but some new additions, like the axe-tossing booth from Cullman-based German Axe Throwing Co., lent the proceedings even more of an outdoor carnival vibe than before.
"This is my first time doing this," joked Nick Overton of Crane Hill after stepping into the axe-tossing booth and nailing one bullseye throw after another. Hitting up the fest was an easy call for Overton, who lives just down the road at Crane Hill (the same community, incidentally, where the event first got its start). "It still took me 30 minutes to get here," he teased. "When you live at Crane Hill, you're pretty much still 30 minutes from everywhere."
With all the shaved ice, grilled meats, and pork skins vying for guests' attention, tracking down an actual sweet potato can be surprisingly tough while you're inside the venue. The trick, though, is knowing just where to look for Alabama's newly-christened state vegetable. Each year, local growers like Kress Farms have the orange tubers lined up by the sackful at their drive-by stations right along the roadside as guests exit the park.
But if you never bite even once on the festival's namesake food mascot, you're still guaranteed to have a good time. "Our kids love it," said Elizabeth Ralph of Fairview, back this year with her husband Johnathan for their second Sweet Tater trip. "We're here to have fun; they're here to pet the animals."