Harpers Ferry Fire Department Wild Game Feed celebrating its 25th anniversary this Saturday

Wild Game Feed is this Saturday ... Harpers Ferry Fire Chief Dave Cota is grateful for the many volunteers, attendees and donations that make the Harpers Ferry Fire Department’s Wild Game Feed the department’s biggest annual fundraiser. This year’s feed, scheduled for Saturday, April 13, marks the 25th anniversary of the event, which has accounted for many of the department’s equipment upgrades over the years.

by Kelli Boylen
Freelance writer

The menu varies not only from year to year, but from hour to hour. One will definitely find themselves choosing from venison, turkey and catfish, but there might also be squirrel, elk, buffalo, rabbit, alligator, duck and goose. There will be hundreds of items between the live and silent auction, and choice beverages will also be available.

It’s time for the annual Harpers Ferry Fire Department Wild Game Feed, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the anticipated event.

According to Harpers Ferry Fire Chief Dave Cota, the Wild Game Feed started in 1994 when Robert Vavra brought up the idea of a game feed which had been held as a successful fundraiser in Swisher, where he was from. The fire department decided to give it a try and held the event at the local bar which Vavra owned.

The annual event ended up being too crowded after a few years so it was moved to the Harpers Ferry fire station, where it has been held ever since.

It is by far the biggest fundraiser of the year for the fire department, and one of the biggest events of the year in the community, after the Fourth of July celebration and Memorial Day.

“For a lot of people the game feed is a sure sign of spring,” says Cota. “People come from all around to attend, some of them travel quite a distance to get here for it.”

Many seasonal residents start coming back to Harpers Ferry mid-April, which is why they hold the event the second weekend of the month. Many folks get reacquainted after the winter; Cota says when the weather is good it very much gets the feel of a party.

With the exception of last year when there was a winter storm, attendance has been around 1,000 people in recent years. Some people come just for the food, others for the auction. Many people attend both.

“We are very fortunate for what people have donated to the department over the years,” says Cota. Many local hunters and anglers create their own specialty dishes with wild game and bring them to the event.

Members of the fire department cook most of the meat, including 300 pounds of catfish and about 25 deep fried turkeys (although it is a “wild” game feed the majority of turkeys are purchased.) They work with Tony Diersen of Lansing, who brings his large grill. “He’s been a huge asset,” says Cota.

The firefighters start marinating meats and prepping other things, such as duck and goose shish-kabobs, a couple of days ahead of time. The Friday before the event they start moving out the fire trucks and setting up the tables and chairs and a tent is erected. The game feed opens to the public at 3 p.m. Saturday and they actively serve until the auction starts at about 7:30 that evening.

Members of Harpers Ferry Boosters Inc. (formerly known as the Harpers Ferry Booster Club) provide some of the desserts and salads. Spouses of the firefighters help with preparing, serving and other tasks.

The auction features items donated by local residents and businesses and has a very wide range of items, ranging from sporting goods to home-baked items. There are several highly-sought after items including “mystery coolers” (which usually contain pudding shots or Jello shots), and Patty Hastings’ home-baked cookies have been known to raise several hundred dollars. Other auction items typically include homemade furniture, woodcrafts, Amish quilts, seed corn and custom made fire rings. Throughout the entire event there are raffles with prizes ranging from guns to jewelry, and there are even raffles just for kids.

The Harpers Ferry Volunteer Fire Department has 26 members. The department’s service area runs from Effigy Mounds National Monument on Highway 76 to Lafayette Ridge, and from the sawmill in Yellow River State Forest to the Lansing Harpers Road. Their equipment includes two tankers, a pumper, a rescue truck, a brush truck, a boat and two UTVs. Cota said many of the department’s equipment upgrades have been a result of the successful wild game feed.

All volunteer firefighters in the state of Iowa are required to have 24 hours of training annually. The volunteers in Harpers Ferry also train in water rescue with the community’s proximity to the Mississippi River.

Some years there is special entertainment, such as the time several years ago that some of the firefighters did a dance in their bunker pants to “YMCA”. No official word has been made available if there will be any unique additions to the 25th annual event scheduled for this Saturday, April 13.

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