Uniquely Arkansas: Johnson County plans fruitful 80th fest


Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

For the Johnson County Peach Festival, the last two years have been, well, the pits.

Due to COVID-19, the annual downtown Clarksvillle celebration was canceled in 2020. And while the Peach Festival was back “in the flesh” in 2021, one important ingredient was missing: peaches.

Milisa Woodard, festival president and a member of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative, explains last year’s cold winter was the culprit. “If it freezes after April 19, we do not have peaches,” she says. “The freeze killed all the orchards. We couldn’t even get peaches from California or Florida or anywhere because everybody had a freeze that year.

“And, so, it’s not a very good Peach Festival without peaches.”

But Woodard expects the 2022 event — scheduled for July 21 to 23 — will be just peachy.

“This year, the orchards are going to be nice and full,” she says, referring to the 20 different varieties of stone fruits furnished primarily by Peach Pickin’ Paradise in Lamar. “We’re going to have a great year.”

Not just a great year, a milestone year. This is the 80th anniversary peach party, the state’s oldest outdoor festival, which explains the retro “Skating through the ‘80s” theme.

Beyond crafts, concessions and music, the festival features a diaper derby, pocket car race, water balloon toss, frozen T-shirt contest, skateboard competition, bass tournament, fishing derby, 4-mile walk/run, cardboard boat regatta, greased pig chase, frog jump, turtle derby, parade, street dance, horseshoe competition, bag toss competition and Johnson County Idol.

There are plenty of peachy pageants — from “Teeny” to “Tiny,” from “Princess Elberta” (named for a popular, yellow-fleshed peach grown in the area) to “Little Mister,” and from “Mrs. Peach” to “Miss Johnson County” (a preliminary for the Miss Arkansas competition).

And, of course, there is the fruit-flavored fun: a peach cobbler bake-off, a peach jelly and jam competition, a peach salsa competition, a peach pie-eating competition, peach-pit-spitting competition and peach-eating competition.

A lifelong Clarksville resident with childhood memories of picking and canning peaches “bigger than a softball,” Woodard says, “I’m just happy to have peaches this year. It makes a huge difference.”

To get a “peach” of the action, visit jocopeachfest.com for more information and a full schedule of activities.