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It was a mild September day with a slight breeze rolling through the trees. The smell of burgers and brats grilling wafted over the crowd. Squeals and high-pitched laughter radiated from children running about. And bobbing along the creek nearby were a few thousand yellow duckies.

On Saturday, Sept. 15, he 21st Annual York Fest was held in the historic town of York, about 20 miles northeast of Helena. 

A fundraiser for the York Volunteer Fire Department, the annual event offered activities and fun for people of all ages.

The day’s events kicked off bright and early with the annual firemen’s breakfast at 8 a.m.

Members of the public lined up and filled their plates to the brim with eggs and omelets, pancakes, sausage, biscuits and gravy, potatoes and toast. All of the food was cooked and served up by members of the York Fire Department.

York Fire-Rescue Chief John Naylor was not only one of the major coordinators for this year’s York Fest but was also one of the cooks flipping made-to-order omelets.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community,” said Naylor of the community breakfast. “We get to shake hands with people and let people know who the firefighters in York are.”

Naylor, who is a Army veteran, shared that he had the privilege of cooking alongside a fellow retired Marine and York fireman on Saturday.

“We know what a good breakfast is all about,” joked Naylor.

Not long after breakfast, the firefighters convened again to serve up a lunch of brats and classic York burgers. After the luncheon, guests perused a vendor fair with over 20 different booths set up in the park across from the York Bar. There was also a pie auction, raffles and other family-friendly activities to keep everyone busy.

A silent auction featured a variety of local items -- from autumn-themed baskets and inflatable derby ducks to a custom-built Adirondack chair. One of the prominent raffle items was a custom framed and matted gouache watercolor painting by local artist, Jean McLean. The same picture was also featured on the shirts for the York 38 special bike ride held on Aug. 25.

Saturday’s events also featured a live musical performance by Dan Henry, a Montana-born musician. Henry’s one-man band combined guitar playing with the bluesy sounds of harmonica and his unique vocal stylings.

The high point of the day finally came around 4 p.m. though when the traditional “duck race” was held along Trout Creek. Prior to Saturday, individuals were able to purchase a duck either online or directly from a York firefighter, the York Bar or other local businesses. According to Naylor, a total of 2,200 ducks were purchased.

At the start of the race, participants dropped their yellow rubber ducks into Trout Creek and the race was on. The race usually takes around 30-45 minutes to finish. The first duck to cross the finish line won the participant $500. Second place was $250, third place was $100 and the last duck to float across the finish line took home $75.

The funds raised by the duck race and the York Fest, will go towards the construction of a new York fire-rescue station in Eldorado Heights. According to Naylor, the department has been looking for years to add a station in that area. Currently, volunteers may have to drive to York, then back to Eldorado Heights in order to respond to a call. The new station will help improve response time.

Naylor went on to share that he filed an application for authorization with the Lewis and Clark National Forest Service in February to allow for the new station to be built on the land. About two weeks ago, the application was approved.

“If we get this station built, it will be huge,” said Naylor.

York’s time-honored community event was once again a hit.

“Things are going great,” said Naylor during the lunch rush. “Look at all the people! We really appreciate the support of the Helena community and Helena businesses.”

“It’s an all-around good time,” said Naylor of York Fest. “There’s a lot to do and to see. We keep trying to make it a better event each year.”

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