The 40th edition of Oregon’s Alpenfest, takes place Thursday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Sept. 30. Swiss, Germans and anyone else who appreciates Alpine traditions gather each September in Wallowa County to celebrate lively polka, soothing alphorn music, melodic Swiss yodeling, savory bratwurst and eastern Oregon craft beer.
Oregon’s Alpenfest, the only Swiss-Bavarian cultural festival in the West, happens in the majestic Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon – a region whose spectacular scenery reminds many of the Swiss Alps.
Events are scheduled at Wallowa Lake, one of Oregon’s biggest attractions; the art colony of Joseph, and historic Enterprise. The glacier-formed lake is known for its pristine beauty and recreation assets ranging from boating, hiking, fishing and camping, to riding the tramway to the top of the surrounding peaks.
Featured performers are The Polkatones dance band, the Tirolean Dancers folk dance troupe, Swiss yodeler Shelby Imholt from Portland, Enterprise alphornist Bruce Coutant and accordion virtuoso Alicia Baker from Denver.
Polka stars Randy and Ashley Thull from Wisconsin will offer free polka lessons, and visiting accordionists will play on Main Street in Joseph and at the outdoor Alpine Breakfasts at Wallowa Lake.
Main performances take place Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening in the century-old Edelweiss Inn, traditional home of Alpenfest, next to the Wallowa Lake Tramway.
Numerous craft and food vendors will offer their wares Friday through Sunday at the outdoor Alpine Fair.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, pancakes, eggs and sausage will be served at the Alpine Breakfasts to benefit the Wallowa Lake Tourism Association.
Details about the performers and ticket information are available at oregonalpenfest.com or by phone to 541-426-2577.
Alpenfest was born in 1975 when business owners at Wallowa Lake sought to create a reason for visitors to come to “Oregon’s Little Switzerland” after Labor Day, the typical end of the busy visitor season. Tourism is a large driver of the county economy.
A natural for the end of September, when other regions are staging Oktoberfests, the original Alpenfest lasted until 2008. In 2011, after disappointed tourists kept asking what happened, business owners in Joseph and at the lake decided to revive the festival.
The new era was ushered in with a new name, “Oregon’s Alpenfest,” in 2012. Events were scheduled in three Wallowa County locations, as is the case today.
Beer offerings will differ from those in past years. Instead of importing German beers, Alpenfest will pour exclusively eastern Oregon brews in Alpine style. Attendees receive free 24-ounce glass mugs at entrance.
Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, which has honored the festival with an Alpenfest beer every year since 2012, will make a German kolsch. East Fork Brewery in Joseph will provide a Bavarian Hefeweizen, M. Crow Brewing in Lostine a Berliner Weisse and Side A Brewing in La Grande a German black lager known as Schwartzbier.
Alpenfest’s bratwurst is produced by Hines Meat Co. in La Grande. Hines, a family-owned butcher shop, is the latest of several providers of bratwurst for the festival following changes in the region’s sausage landscape. Chuck Anderson, the event’s alpenmeister, said Hines “has the best smoked German bratwurst in the state that I’ve tasted.”
The event’s parent organization, Alpenfest, is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Swiss and Bavarian traditions. Contributions are tax deductible.