University of Okoboji celebrates Oktoberfest

Summer may be over, but the fun never ends in the Iowa Great Lakes.

Next up is the University of Okoboji’s Oktoberfest celebration.

Originally a fall fun bike ride around West Okoboji Lake, the event has grown exponentially into a full-blown fall festival.

“So this is now five years that we’ve had the event here at the chamber and it’s the 31st year overall for the bike ride,” said Kiley Zankowsi, director of membership and events for the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve tried to add different events every year to become kind of a mini Winter Games, which is a lot of fun. The goal is to become a fall Oktoberfest destination here in the Iowa Great Lakes.”

The fun way gets underway at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 with the original event, the bike ride, which starts and finishes at Preservation Plaza in Arnolds Park.

Registration will cost $35 online until Sept. 22 and while registration will also be possible the day of, a ride shirt is not guaranteed at that point.

The route will take cyclists counterclockwise around West Okoboji with an optional finishing loop around Lake Minnewashta.

“It’s about an 18-24 mile bike ride depending on if you take the extra loop or not,” Zankowski said. “The majority of it is on Lakeshore Drive and our awesome trails here in the Iowa Great Lakes. We’re so lucky to have those and the gorgeous scenery and fall leaves as the seasons change make for a beautiful ride.”

Many chamber businesses along the route will have food and beverage specials and possibly games available for riders to enjoy as they make their way around the lake.

Once back at Preservation Plaza, all the rest of the festival fun comes into play.

“We’ve got a full day of fun planned for sure,” Zankowski said. “You can kick it off in the morning with Farmers Market in the Park, which will be going on through September this year. We’ve also got our vendor show going with 30 vendors selling anything from makeup and apparel to custom jewelry and pottery. There is the bean bag toss tournament and live music from Shirts and Skin, a fun, high energy cover band who will be playing on the big stage this year. Pretty much every hour we’ve got a different competition going on with the keg toss, stein holding and almost all of it is free. There is no charge to come down and enjoy. We’ll also having inflatables going the entire time of the festival. And we’re really excited to have the Amusement Park bringing out a couple kids rides.”

As the festival continues to grow Zankowski enjoys seeing everyone come back to participate and have some fun.

“It’s been so much fun to watch it grow and to see those returning groups, families bringing kids and grandkids and groups that add new friends every year,” Zanowski said. “It’s always fun to hear their stories and see some wear their traditional costumes every year. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy themselves. It’s a ton of fun.”