North Aurora struts its stuff with annual FallFest

134

Fall is in the air and on the streets in Original Aurora.

FallFest, the city’s annual celebration of all things autumn, storms into Fletcher Plaza Oct. 17, marking the seasonal festival’s 20th year of continuous existence.

Anthony Carrillo , master carver, carves Frankenstein out of a pumpkin during FallFest on Oct. 16 at Fletcher Plaza in Aurora. Heather A. Longway/ The Aurora Sentinel
Anthony Carrillo , master carver, carves Frankenstein out of a pumpkin during FallFest on Oct. 16 at Fletcher Plaza in Aurora. Heather A. Longway/ The Aurora Sentinel

“FallFest is an institution up here, and a welcome institution at that,” said Sally Mounier, city councilwoman for Ward I. “I personally would like to see it go on and on, and while I won’t be around for the 100th anniversary, having everyone enjoy themselves is a lot of fun and it’s so good for the neighborhood. It’s just another thing that brings us all together.”

Despite being one of the oldest traditions in north Aurora, the annual October jamboree is thousands of dollars, attendees and volunteer hours from where it began two decades ago. The local fair, featuring live music, crafts and games like giant Jenga for kids, was the brainchild of Doris Emsley, a north Aurora community leader and former member of the neighborhood action team, according to Peg Alt, a community development outreach specialist with Original Aurora Renewal.

“Doris was a community grime fighter and crime fighter and a real neighborhood advocate,” Alt said. “She was one of those people who wanted to see change and made it happen.”

The first incarnation of FallFest took place in 1995 and stemmed from Emsley requesting $50 from OAR to host a small gathering for about 35 children in the then-new Beeler Street Community Garden, according to Alt. Located at 1675 Beeler St., Emsley worked with the city and Denver Urban Gardens to develop the garden in 1992.

“It was a place where mattresses were dropped off, and Doris lived just a half a block from the site, which is why it was so important to her that it be reclaimed and redeveloped,” Alt said. “It’s still feeding this community and putting food on the table today.”

Following that initial effort, FallFest organically grew to become one of the premier events in the entire city.

“FallFest is an institution up here, and a welcome institution at that,” said Sally Mounier, city councilwoman for Ward I. “I personally would like to see it go on and on, and while I won’t be around for the 100th anniversary, having everyone enjoy themselves is a lot of fun and it’s so good for the neighborhood. It’s just another thing that brings us all together.”

“We just kept finding funds and building out the activities over the years,” Alt said.

For the 20th anniversary, FallFest boasts a budget of about $14,000, according to Alt, who said that $5,000 of that total is coming from a grant courtesy of Aurora Community Development, while the remainder has been allocated from various city entities. She added that the event is expected to attract between 2,300 and 3,000 people to the district.

Alt has wholeheartedly stepped into Emsley’s shoes as north Aurora’s loudest cheerleader over the past decade, constantly championing the district and systematically finding ways to increase FallFest’s funding to bolster the event’s entertainment offerings. Doris Emsley died in 2004, but her two children, Sandra and Kenny, are both still actively involved in organizing the annual festival.

“Peg has really built this event, and I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves,” said Tracy Weil, managing director of the Aurora Cultural Arts District. “She’s been one of, if not the biggest advocate for the district in my mind.”

Walt Weinberg, owner of Sunrise Artworks on Florence Street and an active Aurora community member for nearly 20 years, echoed Weil’s enthusiasm regarding Alt’s ongoing efforts.

“If you want to do something in Original Aurora, you get Peg Alt,” he said. “She’s fabulous.”

Alt said that this year’s gathering beside the Martin Luther King Jr. Library will act as an indicator of how much the once-nefarious stretch of Colfax has progressed in recent years and where it’s headed going forward.

“I hear tell that we’re the hottest ZIP Code in the state of Colorado, 80010,” she said. “It’s great to see where Original Aurora is positioned right now and just think what the next year and a half could bring with light rail, housing, all of it. I think we look very good.”