By Megan Knowles/

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Ask anyone involved with Boy Scout Troop 487’s primitive rides at the Johnny Appleseed Festival and they will tell you a lot of work goes into getting them up and running year after year.

But they will also tell you the hours of planning, long days setting up and busy days at the festival are all worth it to benefit the Scout troop that meets at Epiphany Lutheran Church on Maplecrest Road.

The primitive playground was started more than 25 years ago by the troop’s former Scoutmaster, Patrick Cronin.

According to the stories he’s heard, the idea started with a one-year commitment for one ride and the hopes of raising money after other fundraisers proved to be less than successful, Assistant Scoutmaster Gavin Purcell said.

The next year, the troop was told its idea had been successful and was asked to bring back even more rides.

“It started with one ride for one year to now being the biggest fundraiser this troop has,” Gavin Purcell said.

Today, the troop offers seven rides, none of which are operated by modern mechanics. For example, the bucking bronco is activated by pulling on ropes, and the swing boat, merry-go-round and maypole all require spinning or pushing to make them go, Senior Patrol Leader Kaleb McCague explained.

“People are always amazed at what we can do given that it’s not mechanical [and] the majority of [the rides] don’t include modern construction,” he said.

Don’t think however that because the rides aren’t mechanical and are constructed largely with ropes and logs that setting them up is a breeze.

“It takes a lot of planning,” Scout mom and member of the troop committee Sherry Conley said.

Several weeks before the Johnny Appleseed Festival the troop has a work day, when the ride components are taken out of storage and examined for safety, Scout mom Wendy Rhodes said.

“There’s a lot of pieces and you have to go through and check each one to make sure everything is safe,” she said.

The weekend before the festival the building blocks are taken to Johnny Appleseed Park, Conley said. Holes are bored into the ground and rides begin to be constructed Saturday and Monday. Construction will continue until all the rides are up and ready to go.

“It needs all the troop, all the parents. The more people that we have to help is usually better,” Rhodes said.

The Sunday after the festival everything will come back down again.

In addition to getting all the help they can, experience is key, Advancement Committee Chairman Wendell Purcell said.

“The one trick is, once somebody gets familiar with how to do it then they need to pass that information and knowledge to the younger people coming up because there’s always people coming in and people leaving so to keep it smooth year to year you need experience to set it up,” he said.

During the festival, the rides will see thousands of riders, meaning long, busy days for Scouts and their parents alike. Younger Scouts will often help collect tickets and oversee the less complex rides, while older Scouts and adults will run the more involved merry-go-round and maypole, Garrett Purcell said.

“We go through thousands of people every day so [Scouts] have to be on hand and ready to do whatever they need to do,” McCague said.

Scouts and their families are paid a wage per hour, he said. After paying the festival and setting aside money for the troop itself, the remaining money is given to the Scouts for their individual accounts.

These funds then help them pay for gear or trips, such as past ones to the Kalamazoo Air Museum and to a docked World War II submarine in Muskegon, Michigan, McCague said.

“That’s always a fun trip,” he said. “We’ve gone skiing and white water rafting and canoeing and kayaking.”

For many, the funds generated from the pioneer rides are essential for going on those excursions.

“In order for me to go on these trips it was very imperative that I had those funds and a lot of the other kids in the troop are in the same boat,” Gavin Purcell said. “A lot of Scouts are actually able to stay in the troop and stay active as they are…because of this event.”

The Scout parents see a benefit beyond the fundraising as well.

“[You keep helping out] because you know what it takes to do it and you know that without the manpower and the experience the people that are trying will have a hard way to go, so you know that you’re needed and the help is appreciated and it’s a good time,” Wendell Purcell said. “It’s work but you’ve got good people and camaraderie.”

“It’s like you all become kind of a family. You have your scout family, we become very close,” Rhodes said.

The 43rd annual Johnny Appleseed Festival takes place this year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at Johnny Appleseed Park. As in years past there will be a farmer’s market, food and craft booths, antiques and primitives, demonstrators and entertainment. Everything is set in the time period of the mid-1800s, with vendors and presenters even wearing traditional clothing.

Free parking and a shuttle are available nearby. For more information, visit