Go fly a kite

GARRISON Kite fans from across the United States and one from Canada descended upon Fort Stevenson State Park near Garrison on Saturday to kick off the 22nd kite festival there.

Skyfest Over Fort Stevenson continues today and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is free to the event, save for the standard entry rate to the park. It’s a good deal because event coordinator Rena Rustad said that she thinks $30,000 will be floating in the air by the end of each day.

Rustad began with the festival as the kite vendor, a post she still serves in, but when the former coordinator decided to retire from it two years ago, she didn’t want to see the festival go away.

What was once known as Skydance Over Sakakawea then became Skyfest Over Fort Stevenson, with its primary field being the bluff in front of the fort overlooking the lake. The fields to the east and west of that are also flying kites.

There’s all kind of kites to see from jumbo whale, crocodile, fish or other huge pieces known as “line laundry” to sled kites and dual-line kites moving rapidly in circles and zig-zags.

Rustad said she became interested in kites one Monday afternoon 12 years ago when she brought her son, who has since graduated from college, out to the fetival.

“Someone put a dual line kite in his hands and then we were just hooked,” she said.

A pink dual-line kite with over 280 reported flight hours on it was stunning onlookers toward the center of the field Saturday morning. It’s flown by Tom White, who came with his wife, Kelly, to the event from Winnipeg, Manitoba. His presence gave Skyfest an “international” distinction it hadn’t enjoyed for some years.

“I don’t like the driving, but I love the flying,” White said of the trip.

It’s his first time at this one but he’s been attending the Jamestown kite festival yearly for about a decade. Kites are popular in North Dakota. There are eight kite festivals a year with the first being a part of Shiverfest in Devils Lake in February and then finishing off with festivals in Parshall and Beulah toward the end of warm weather.

White is passionate about kites, with a fast talking way about him and crams as much information on all the aspects of kites and kite flying as you could hope to know within a short converstaion.

“I attended a kite festival in Winnipeg and saw this stuff and the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I saw certain styles of kite liftoff. Then you start talking to people and you get to try their kites, especially with a soft kite,” he said.

“People might get the bug or they might not. The typical story is that people fly kites until they’re eight or 10 years of age and then, again, when you’re 42,” he said, laughing, pointing out that most of the fliers of the big kites were about 50 or older.

White’s three teenaged children liked to fly kites when they were younger but now help him out as kind of his “groundcrew” at kite events.

Around White there were all kind of other kites. The big “crowd pleasers” were the gigantic animal kites, the “line laundry.” Those big kites usually can’t fly on their own so need a “lifter” or “pilot” kite, which either trails them or are sled kites flying high above giving the rest of the “line laundry” below it the lift they need to stay in the air.

Visitors to the event could watch their favorites and then go over to meet Rustad in the vending trailer or even sign up for prizes and a raffle for a larger kite displayed in front of the concession tent.

While kids age 12 and under had Saturday to make their own kites with a little guidance, they will still get a chance to be in a picture with Wally the Walleye at 2 p.m. today or participate in a “Bol” race at 2 p.m. Monday.

A “Bol” race is when a kite is tied to each child’s back and then they have to race against the wind.

For the adults, raffle tickets for the big kite will still be sold through today with the drawing taking place around 3 p.m. Tickets are $1 for one or $5 for six.

According to Chris Dodson of Jamestown, though, there is more to a kite festival than just the kites. He’s got the homemade musical wares to prove his point, too.

“In Europe, kite festivals have these big sound gardens. People come from all over the world to build things that play music by the wind,” he said while standing downwind from his wind harp.

“The wind cuts across the strings and vibrates them. The technology, if you want to call it that, has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years but you don’t hear it much,” he said.

Traditional and popular wind harps have been placed in windowsills and the like to produce some music and his instruments maintain the same idea but are larger.

Another instrument is a gourd organ which uses much the same principles as the wind harp but has different string tunings, produces different sounds and uses hollowed gourds as the space for wind sound.

“How I got into this is that you can put kite whistles and hummers and strings on kites,” he said. “While researching that I found out that you can do them on the ground.”

As the gourd organ produced a pleasing hum and three of his kites flew overhead Dodson added that “it’s the same principal of taking the wind and using it to beautify something, to create something.”