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Photo by Vicki Harris

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ALBANY -- The staff of Chehaw has been ringing in the new year with preparations for its 18th annual Frontier Festival, a three-day event that starts Friday.

Doug Porter, executive director of the Parks at Chehaw, said the Frontier Festival is "an educational, interesting, and entertaining event" which will include demonstrations by re-enactors in period clothing who do cloth spinning, woodworking, hide tanning, and blacksmithing.

"And all of these things are done in the primitive way. It's all done in a very authentic manner," says Porter.

Ben Kirkland, natural resources manager for Chehaw and Frontier Festival organizer, said,, "I've been into primitive crafts since I was a kid. I've been teaching other people for more than 20 years."

Kirkland's personal interest in the frontier activities is what led him to organize the first Frontier Festival. "The festival focuses on the pioneer life of early America," says Kirkland. "It's basically patterned after what they called mountain man rendezvous."

These rendezvous, Kirkland explains, were a time for men who had a certain skill or ability to meet with one another for trade purposes.

Likewise, Chehaw's Frontier Festival showcases the special talents and abilities of people, like Kirkland, who enjoy the sorts of primitive crafts that were necessary for survival in the frontier.

"The people that come here are all unpaid volunteers. This is their hobby. All we ask is that they come here and be accurate with their representations of the period," Kirkland says.

"These people are mostly self-taught," says Porter. "They've done a lot of research and they share a lot of information from one person to another" in order to maintain the knowledge of these crafts.

Kirkland says that the park itself does not have strict guidelines for the re-enactors.

"It is basically their event and they're having fun," he says of the re-enactors. "There's no schedule. It's very laid back and very relaxed."

Porter echoes this sentiment, explaining that "These people who are into re-enacting more primitive life are basically just a group of friends who like to get together and camp and be around a campfire."

But to try their skills, "We'll do some friendly competition as well," says Kirkland where the re-enactors will illustrate proper handling of old-fashioned firearms in a shooting contest.

Apart from demonstrations of pioneer craft and gun skills, some of the re-enactors will show festival-goers how to cook over an open campfire.

The foods that are prepared during the festival will be available for sale to patrons, as will many of the crafts that are created by the re-enactors.

"There will be food and merchandise available for sale."

Porter explains that the Frontier Festival is also a very family-friendly event. "The beauty of it is that it appeals to all ages," he says.

"With the event itself, there is a real educational aspect in talking to the people out here camping and doing their crafts," Porter says.

He also explains that the Festival comes at a good time for the Parks at Chehaw. "There's usually nothing going on at the park this time of year, so the timing works really well for us. It's a great winter activity."

Porter says, "Everyone should just dress for the weather and come out to the Frontier Festival."

The event is free with park admission. For more information visit www.chehaw.org.