From the Kitchen

Thornden Park Association to host annual Chili Bowl Festival this weekend

Alex Szelewski | Design Editor

Miranda Hine has been taking her children to the Thornden Park Chili Bowl Festival since it started in 1996. Her children are grown up now, with kids of their own, and they will be going to the festival too.

On Saturday, the Thornden Park Association will hold its 21st annual Chili Bowl Festival at the park’s field house from noon to 3 p.m., in a partnership with the culinary program at Onondaga Community College to make the chili and will offer four different kinds, including a vegetarian option.

In addition to bringing the community together, the festival is also a fundraiser for the Thornden Park Association.

The festival began as a neighborhood community potluck where people brought all different types of chili to share. There were activities for children, music and raffle prizes. Now, they typically get 250-300 people, depending on the weather, said Sondra Roth, a volunteer for the Thornden Park Association.

“It’s a way for neighbors to catch up after being inside all winter,” Roth said.

This year’s festival will feature live performances from local musicians Phil and Brendan Rose, Danielle Patrice and Dick Ford. For kids, there will be face painting, sidewalk chalk and other games. Later in the day, there will be a bonfire outside the field house.

The event is sponsored by Syracuse City Department of Parks, Recreation & Youth Programs, Syracuse University, Tupper Property Management, G&L Davis Meat Co., Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union, author Bruce Coville and Middle Ages Brewing Co.

“Originally, we had a winter festival and that kind of morphed into the Chili Festival, which has been very popular with people,” said Hine, a board member for the Thornden Park Association.

In the past, the event has had some SU student involvement. Kiva Vandergeest, treasurer for the Thornden Park Association and State University of New York College of Environmental Science alumna, worked in the past to coordinate student volunteers, and said this year they weren’t able to get as many, but wasn’t sure exactly why.

As a landscape architecture alumna of ESF, she joined the Association because she thought it would be a good way to get involved in the community and use her degree in a meaningful way, Vandergeest said.

“(Joining the Association) did help,” Vandergeest said in a text message. “I’ve meet a lot of people and I know a lot more about Syracuse and in general how public, private and nonprofit partnerships are very important to the success of communities.”

The Association started in 1983 and is run by volunteers like Roth and Hine who have an interest in advocating for the upkeep of the park, Roth said.

Highlights of the park include tennis and basketball courts, a community pool, amphitheater, a lily pond and the E.M. Mills Memorial Rose Garden. The park was purchased by the City of Syracuse in 1921 and is the second largest park in the city. Since 1994, it has been listed on state and national registers of historic places because of its historic landscape.

The Association is constantly working new projects to revitalize the 76-acre historic park. Recently, the Association installed new outdoor exercise equipment and new water fountains. In the summer, they offer a summer camp for children entering grades 1-5 in addition to a Shakespeare Festival and free weekly yoga classes. They also offer an exercise class year-round.

The association hosts the annual Westcott Street fair that attracts around 8,000 people to the Westcott neighborhood for a celebration of food, art and service projects.

In the past, Thornden Park has also held “Maple Day,” which is another way for the community to gather around food and for local syrup makers to sell their products. One of the goals of this event is to connect food production with the community.

“One of the reasons we started the Chili Bowl Festival was because we wanted the park to be used year-round,” Hine said. “Because the more the park is used appropriately, the better the place is.”

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