Morel Festivals of Midwest
It’s spring in the Midwest and with spring comes urgent need to get to the woods and beat out the crowds for the coveted morel mushroom. With hundreds of thousands of morel enthusiasts competing for diminishing hunting grounds and urgently checking morel maps and forums to see if morels are fruiting locally, communities with prime hunting grounds are planning entertaining and educational festivals. Most festivals are replete with carnivals, parades, grand forays with prizes for the largest haul, and morel auctions there’s fun for the entire family. Simply put, Morels have an incredible, meaty flavor and are the most sought after mushroom in the US. Many folks begin hunting morels and then move on to other mushrooms, but most continue to only hunt this special fungi. If you’ve never hunted them, this is your opportunity to get out there and learn, while meeting professional foragers and learning from some of the best.
Some festivals, like Indiana’s Brown County Simply Music Simply Morel Festival have main stages and professional musicians playing late into the night, others like Wisconsin’s Musconda Morel Festival offer free rides back to your hotel for those that over indulge. All festivals stress the educational and recreational experience that a good day in the woods brings. Each festival is put together by dedicated folks who enjoy the outdoors and are committed to others having good experiences. Whether you’re a beginning morel hunter or a seasoned pro, there’s always something to learn and great folks to meet at these fantastic events. There have been countless books written on Morel Hunting, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find a few at each festival, but the real deep seated knowledge comes from doing and learning from some of the best is not only possible, but highly achievable by attending one of these fests. Please click the title of each festival to go directly to that festivals website.
Beautiful Brown County is about an hour from Indianapolis and about four and a half hours from Chicago. Rolling hills and beautiful scenery of this driftless region, along with the abundance of recreational forest land make this a truly special part of the Midwest. The people in Brown County will welcome you and make you feel like you belong. Brown County is home to Brown County State Park, Yellow Wood State Forest as well as parts of the Hossier National Forest.
I met one of the lead organizers, Stephen Russel, in passing last year. I had been plugging logs with Shiitake and Oyster sawdust, pasteurizing wood chips for a Wine Cap Stropharia path through the woods and was exhausted by the time I got to the festival. Much of the afternoon and night was a blur, meetings, lectures, new people from all over the midwest, the amount of information I consumed was truly astounding. Since last year’s fest I have had the good fortune of many late night chats with Russel, from cultivation techniques to ensuring the safety of wild mushrooms sold to stores and restaurants.
“Mushroom hunting is more than just a hobby for many of the people who come to the festival. It is a passion, really a lifestyle,” Stephen Russel told me recently. “Folks are a part of a unique social gathering that brings about all of the best aspects of mushroom hunting – nature, friendship, and family – into a weekend of full of outings and music.” His voice became excited as he told me, “It is a truly unique experience that is now one of my favorite weekends to look forward to each year.”
With the emphasis on education the fest has booked great mushroom hunters to lead forays, Folks like Leon Shernoff of Mushroom, the Journal, Eric Osborne of Magnificent Mushrooms, Andy Methven co-author of 100 Cool Mushrooms and UI Mycologist, and Thomas “The Mushroom King” Weipert from Lewiston, Montana will be coming to lead forays, cooking demonstrations and giving lectures on tree identification. Rob Poe (me) will be speaking, with Dave Golde of Odd Produce in Chicago about how to make a living foraging ethically full time.
For Russel it’s really all about sharing knowledge and teaching others, “I really enjoy teaching people about wild mushroom identification. It’s a skill that not many people have, and once they get a taste of it, most people get a thirst for knowledge that is tough to quench.”
“I learned young, it is a tradition in this part of Indiana that goes back over 100 years, when there wasn’t enough for the pot we had to forage and hunt,” he told me voice cracking slightly, “that was life on an Indiana farm, even with the best black dirt in the world, it was hard to make sure everyone was well fed and the mortgage got paid. I like to teach about identification because it was important enough generations of Hoosiers to teach their children, it’s still important enough to teach to children today.
The Championship Foray was won last year by an outsider, which brings hope to us out of towners this year, Cameron Humfleep from Kentucky went home with first prize. Word is that Humfleep will be prowling the woods of Brown County again this year, so the challenge is on.
Kids 12 and under get in free, as usual.
Nestled on a peninsula of land surrounded by the Natural Bridge Resort State Park, Irvine is about 30 miles South/Southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. The Mountain Mushroom Festival features about 100 booths of arts and crafts and vendors. A parade, and carnival will also be ongoing, a 5k fun run, mushroom auction, tractor show, antique car show and cake decoration demonstration and contest are in the works.
Setting itself apart from other festivals an agate and mineral hunt is scheduled for the Mountain Mushroom Festival has and a mushroom photography show. Sam Kiser won last years 5k race, and …
On the banks of the Illinois River about an hour and a half from Chicago and about a fifteen minute drive from Starved Rock State Park and it’s famous lodge, the Midwest Morel Fest will be a large draw, featuring a “Learn to Hunt” Guided Foray by Morel University on Friday, and the Championship Foray on Saturday. The Fest also features a morel museum, a home made craft fair and tours of the local and beautiful Reddick Mansion.
The Ottawa, Illinois Midwest Morel Fest has been around since 1996, and Ottawa is it’s third home, originally begun in Magnolia, Illinois for ten years it had a great run. The Henry, Illinois Chamber of Commerce organized it for several years until the economic downturn, and now the fine folks in Ottawa do the hard work of organizing it.
Sure to delight will be the home brew beer tasting and home brew seminar during their Morel Mash Up a silent auction and of course, the Morel Auction.
The Midwest Morel Fest Championship Foray has a $500.00 grand prize, sure to get those heavy hunters out, but anyone can come across a honey hole and walk away with a weeks pay. Last year the Largest Morel Prize of $500.00 went to James Lippold, and the Grand Champion with the most weight was Randy Dedecker.
This one day Morel Festival is actually set for the first Saturday in May every year, by county decree. This festival is is halfway between Moline and Davenport, Illinois and features a morel auction and the usual round up of excellent middle American festival fare such as pork chops and sausage sandwiches as well as a round up of kids activities like ring toss and hay rides.
In previous years the Lions Club hosted a Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast, as of press time we were unable to find confirmation on the biscuits.
“The Mushroom Capital of the World” Morel Festival kicks off May 1st through the 3rd. Attracting upwards of 5,000 people it features a kids hay ride, grand parade, carnival and a 5k run, the festival is in it’s 24th year. Organizer Natalie Lamar, a fourth generation morel hunter says, “The morel season kicks off next week, I find it a little odd that there have been morels found to the north, usually they’re fruiting here first, but with a few cool nights and warms days we’ll see a fantastic crop.”
Last year the festival was nearly canceled due to a surprise six inch snow storm, but the grand foray went on and was won by a local. Lamar says “Locals usually win every year, they know all the good spots.” This year will also feature a pig roast as part of the annual golf tournament, known as the Deuce Classic, a largest morel contest and Mister and Miss Competition for kids under 10.
The Iowa Morel Fest was located on the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. This is one of my favorite spots in the Upper Midwest. Across the Mississippi in Wisconsin is the Wyalusing State Park, with camp sites that overlook a 400 foot bluff, and as astronomy club with stargazing on Saturday nights. At the State Park you can rent canoes to explore the channel islands, or in McGregor you can rent motorized boats for the day. Just north of McGregor is the Effigy Mounds National Monument, a sacred place to many Native Americans.
After two years of hard work organizing the festival Nick Treondle doesn’t have the capacity to continue spending months setting it up.
“I’ll be starting in Southern Illinois and Indiana this year, harvesting morels, and working my way up to Minnesota, supplying buyers and restaurants all the way,” says Treondle. “This spring I’ll be sleeping under the stars, with a crew of four. But when I get to Central Wisconsin I’ll be headed to Door County for a four day, private morel camp.”
“I’ll be updating folks on my travels on facebook, and shipping morels all over the country.”
The Mesick Morel Festival lies just outside the Manistee National Forest and Mesick is located about 15 miles south of Traverse City, Michigan . The Fest features a flea market, an antique car show and three days of carnivals – moms ride free with kids on Mother’s Day. This fest also features a magic show, beer tent and horse pull. Sponsored by the local Lions Club the Mesick Fest also features a Softball Tournament, a 5k run, Grand Parade and a carnival. After Saturday’s Parade there will be a “Mud Bog Competition” in which 4 WD racers will compete in a mud track race.
The Lewiston Morel Mushroom Festival is a one day event with morning guided forays, mushrooms tastings, an arts and craft show as well as an outdoor equipment show featuring archery, hunting and equipment. Lewiston is in Eastern Michigan in the Center of Grayling State Forest, about 30 miles north of Huron National Forest. The Grayling State Forest is home to some of the largest morels found.
Up the glove in Michigan, spot on Lake Charlevoix the Boyne City Morel Fest is in the heart of Michigan’s Morel Country. A Carnival Midway is set up for the fest, with Music Friday and Saturday Night. The Grand Championship Foray is on Saturday, on private grounds, with participants bussed over to the undisclosed location.
“I’ve been going since I was a youngster,” says Ashleigh Harris of Michigan Mushroom Marketplace, “And this is the fifth year as the sole mushroom vendor.” This fest has not only cooking demonstrations but a tasting and cooking competition, says Harris, who also sells prepared foods such as mushroom soups and compound butters made in a commercial kitchen and sold at Farmer’s Markets with her co-owner husband Ken, and soon at their wild mushroom specialty store in Petoskey, Michigan, which opens this summer.
The Musconda, Wisconsin morel festival, in it’s 32nd year, the festival is sponsored by the local American Legion. The Town of Musconda is nestled in state forests on the Wisconsin river halfway between Madison and Prairie du Chien, and attracts folks as far away as Chicago and the Quad Cities attracting about 3,000 people. The prime morel spots east of Lake Michigan happen to be right around Musconda.
Cinda Johnson is one of the folks that help organize the fest, Cinda says shes been coming to the festival for over 20 years, “I love being outdoors in the woods, I love the possibility of finding that honey spot.” As usual she says, “the mainstage music will be at the firehouse, but this year they’re having a DJ at Mushroom Head Quarters.”
The festival funds the local American Legion Hall’s activities, including local little league teams. Last year poor weather put the entire festival in doubt, but at the last minute local hunters came in from the woods with enough morels that the Hall was able to sell hundreds of one pound baskets fresh from the hunt.
Now with almost every weekend over the next month and a half booked, all I can say is, have fun! And save some for me!
Feel free to contact me to add your festival to the list