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Next Saturday, Oct. 4, will be an Apple Day like no other, complete with all the bells and whistles.

That’s “bell,” as in the dedication of the Grantsdale school bell tower on the Ravalli County Museum lawn, and “whistles” as in “wet your whistle” with some hard cider at the first-ever “Liquid Apple Night” hard cider festival, taking place at American Legion Park from 4-8 p.m.

The 35th Annual McIntosh Apple Day, celebrated on the first Saturday in October, is a traditional event sponsored by the museum, and is the biggest single-day event in Ravalli County, attracting more than 8,000 people, according to museum director Tamar Stanley.

It will be bigger than ever this year, with all the usual Apple Day activities, but augmented by the dedication of the Grantsdale School Bell Tower, and capped by Saturday evening’s first-ever “Liquid Apple Night” hard cider fest.

Apple Day kicks off at 9 a.m. with “the biggest bake sale under the Big Sky,” in which 650 apple pies will find new homes, countless jars of apple butter will be preserved and sold, and other apple-related products will keep everyone’s mouth watering. The farmers market and craft vendors will also open at 9 a.m., the one time during the summer when craft vendors from beyond Ravalli County are included.

Those 650 pies are made from hand-selected, hand-peeled, local apples, with the help of 120 volunteers, including the culinary arts students at Trapper Creek Job Corps Center as well as local high school and middle school students. Some pies will be offered frozen, for later consumption, but most will be fresh for immediate enjoyment.

At 10 a.m., 105-year-old Helen Self, the oldest former student from the Grantsdale School, will ring the Grantsdale school bell, to dedicate the newly-installed bell tower on the museum lawn. When the school was closed last year, the Hamilton School District donated the bell and tower to the museum, and they were taken down and put into storage until they could be re-erected at their new home. The project has been financed by donations, and the “sale” of commemorative bricks, which are still available.

Members of the original crew who crafted the 23-foot timber-frame bell tower almost 20 years ago will help to reassemble it, led by Wil Wilkins. Stanley credited museum board member Dennis Moore for his relentless efforts to get the project done.

The school itself was sold to the Hamilton Christian Academy earlier this year, and a student from the last class to attend Grantsdale as a public school will be joined by a student from the Christian Academy in ringing in the bell’s new chapter. A “time capsule” placed in the tower in 1997 by Grantsdale students will be re-dedicated as well.

Following the dedication ceremony, the bell will be struck every hour, on the hour, a chore to which Stanley looks forward with relish.

The Apple Day events and market will continue until 3 p.m., and include special displays highlighting the apple’s role in Bitterroot valley history. Boy Scouts will be pressing apples for fresh cider, and a seasoned crew of volunteers tending to the cauldron of apple butter until it reaches the perfect texture for canning. The museum will also have barbecue pork, apple chutney, and kabobs for sale – along with apple pie by the slice, for dessert. A silent auction and raffle will also benefit the museum. Live music will be provided by Three Eared Dog.

When the market winds down, it won’t be long until the first-ever, “Liquid Apple Night,” celebration of hard cider opens. That event kicks off at 4 p.m. in nearby American Legion Park, with tents for shelter and warming fires to take the edge off an early-fall evening.

Well, that’s actually what the cider’s for – taking the edge off with a crisp taste of hand-crafted small-batch hard cider. The $20 admission gets you a commemorative glass and a chance to enjoy Montana’s first hard cider fest, in conjunction with participating northwest cideries. Sample the different ciders, and enjoy a relaxing evening under the big sky – or the stars, depending on how late you stay.

The event runs until 8 p.m., with music by Kim Carlson, and apple-wood smoked meat catered by the Bitter Root Brewery, and fall fare from the Wild Mare; soft drinks and coffee will also be available.

Stanley said that Apple Day is a great example of a local heritage event, with its roots in the history of the valley, one that helps to cultivate a sense of local identity. As such, it appeals to “heritage tourists,” drawn from a multi-state region to attend the event. It celebrates not only Montana history but offers a “true taste of the region’s culture” during our harvest season, Stanley added.

It also provides an economic stimulus for the community, and Stanley will be working to track more closely the value of the event not just to the museum, but to local businesses.

Most importantly, though, Apple Day sales, and funds raised by the hard cider festival will help the Ravalli County Museum create and present educational programming and exhibits throughout the year.

There is no admission for the 35th annual McIntosh Apple Day, but tickets for the “Liquid Apple Night” hard cider festival may be purchased in advance at the museum, 205 Bedford, or at Chapter One Book Store, Bella Boutique, the Bitter Root Brewery, or The Paper Clip in Hamilton. For more information, call the museum at (406) 363-3338.

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