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Klamath Basin Potato Festival: 78 Years of Celebrating Community and Spuds

The Klamath Basin Potato Festival has been a fixture in the Merrill, Oregon, community and the surrounding area since 1937. The festival was founded to bring together the community and celebrate the potato harvest. The Merrill community is based around agriculture, and it has been since the area's original settler Nathan S. Merrill began farming the area in 1890.


When it comes to activities, the Klamath Basin Festival has something for everyone. The classic car show attracts classic cars, custom cars, and hot rods from all over the Northwest. They are judged and awarded trophies in categories such as people's choice, best old hot rod, and a police department special trophy. The festival parade brings the entire community together to celebrate their creative floats and themes. The themes and floats are judged and given rewards depending on where they get ranked. All ages are encouraged to participate in the parade and they are integral to the event’s popularity. You’ll find a wide range of food vendors, fun games, live music, a high school football game and much more.  


Merrill is the ideal location for a fall festival not only for the large community involvement. but also for the weather. It is temperate and perfect for a fall outdoor gathering. In the community you’ll find delicious restaurants, great shopping, and friendly people. We interviewed event representative, Vickie Liskey, about the festival and how it affects the local community.


RAL:  Tell me about the festival.

VL: The Klamath Basin Potato Festival is a yearly festival to celebrate the end of potato harvest.  Events leading up to the big day are the Talent Show with Dessert Buffet, where our queen is crowned on Wed. the 14th. Friday from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, we are treated to a Potato Bake with all the toppings at the Merrill Umpqua Bank (free). We have a Spud Bowl football game on Friday night, and this year Lost River High School (our local high school) will play Riddle High School. All this leads up to the big day, Saturday the 17th.


RAL: Who attends the festival and what makes it unique?

VL: On average we see a few thousand people in attendance. Our free BBQ feeds between 1,500 and 2,000 people each year. As to the demographic makeup of the event families, couples, children and any other people who want to participate are welcome to join. It is a favorite time for people who are from the community to  “come home” knowing that they will meet a lot of old friends. Also, as you can eat for free, see the sites, enjoy the parade, experience the exhibits and more, it’s just a great place to be around old friends and meet new ones! Because there is no cost, a lot of families like to come for the day.


RAL: Take me through a typical day at the festival.

VL: Oct. 17th is our main day of activities. If you are a runner, you can get to Merrill by 8:00 AM to register for the Spud Run. The parade (about 40-50 entries) starts at 11:00 AM. Before and after the parade, you can view the exhibits inside Walt Wilson Hall (the old high school) and listen to the Old Time Fiddlers. You will see potatoes, vegetables, arts and crafts, food, photography and a flower show. You can also visit the vendors; we had over 60 last year! The ladies of the Presbyterian Church sell potato soup and goodies. Many food vendors sell their favorites for those who don't want to stand in line for the BBQ. You’ll also find a the Rod, Custom & Classic Car Show, bed races, Pop Warner Football games, Live music on the outdoor stage under Merrill's huge POW/MIA flag and memorial, a museum open for all visitors, a beer garden, and a raffle with great prizes.


RAL: Tell me about the local lodging situation.

VL:  Local lodging is in short supply. The Running Y Ranch is only 30 miles away and 20 miles away is Klamath Falls with many motels. Merrill does have a motel but it is small. There is an RV park 2 miles out of town. A couple lodging options to consider are The Resort at Running Y and Lake of the Woods Resort.


RAL: How does the festival affect the community?

VL: This event is sponsored by the Merrill Lion’s Club for the benefit of the community.  Funds raised help to pay for the festival, scholarships for the Queen and her court, and if any is leftover it is spent in the community. The Potato Festival is the main event in our town and there is a huge amount of work going into it and almost everyone participates in some way. It always makes me proud to see a community work together as Merrill does.


RAL: Why should people come to the festival?

VL: The KBPF is just a great place to visit and see small town America in action. Also nearby are the picturesque Lava Beds National Monument and Crater Lake National Park.

For more information please visit the event website.