This year's Ozark Trail Festival was a rousing success

By all accounts, this year's reinvention of the Ozark Trail Festival was a rousing success. Spearheaded by Cleburne County Economic Developer Dara Samuel, the festival was a new imagining of the Cleburne County tradition.

Vendors began setting up early Friday morning in anticipation of the weekend crowds. Those driving by on Main Street could see food vendors offering fried crawfish, alligator on a stick, and shrimp, along with festival favorites such as corn dogs, snow cones, funnel cakes, and kettle corn.

Events officially kicked off Friday evening at 5pm with a Zumbathon. Zumba classes came together to entertain the crowd with exhaustive routines, including an entertaining number the currently popular song "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke. The Zumba dancers weren't the only ones to get into the spirit of street dancing, as children and adults were free to join in the dance routines. "I got tired just watching them," said one spectator. "It was great!" The musical beats slowed down in tempo after the Zumbathon as the Jitterboppers put on an old-fashioned street dance. Two-stepping was the name of the game as Friday night's events wound down.

Saturday proved to be the day that far exceeded the already high expectations by event organizers. Bicyclists started a 20-mile bike ride at 8am and a Poker Run to benefit Children's Cancer Research kicked off at 9.

Attendance was so high that some vendors reported selling out of foods, but that didn't keep the crowd from continuing to enjoy the festival. "We usually come to festivals here and this is the best one we have been to in Heber all year," said one visitor from Little Rock. "We'll definitely be back next year."

A Cleburne County tradition was resurrected as a mock bank robbery took place at the old bank building on Main St. Traffic was stopped so the lawmen could stop the bandits in their tracks.

Immediately after the bank robbery, the parade made it's way down Main. Everything from antique cars and tractors, horses, and beauty queens made their appearance. Sidewalks were jammed with spectators for the parade.

The remainder of the day saw contests for best beard, best bonnet, and best costume along with a BBQ cook off in Spring Park that had not only the judges' but also the crowd's mouth watering just from the aromas. The winners of the contests, along with photos, will be published in the Friday, September 20, edition of The Sun-Times.

5k and 10k runs that began at the Heber Springs High School also took place that evening to help benefit Children's Cancer research.

The festival wound down on Sunday with a continuation of the live music that was offered in Spring Park.

"I think it rocked," said organizer Dara Samuel. "It went above and beyond our expectations. I've had so many calls and emails from people saying how much they enjoyed it. We're already looking towards next year and think the festival will be even bigger and better in 2014."