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Bloom Bash

With 40 acres of manicured gardens, including over 30,000 azaleas, Honor Heights Park and Muskogee attract nearly 250,000 people for one of the area’s most popular events: the Azalea Festival.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
March 28, 2020

Muskogee’s Honor Heights Park has been regaling Oklahomans and out-of-state visitors alike with stunning natural beauty that comes alive in spring with bursting blooms of azaleas and other flowers. The display is so stellar that it’s commemorated with the annual Azalea Festival, which, despite its name, is about so much more than flowers that you’ll want to make plans to get down to Muskogee throughout April for one of the most entertaining sets of experiences in Green Country.

With 40 acres of manicured gardens, including over 30,000 azaleas in 625 varieties, Honor Heights Park itself will receive around 50,000 to 60,000 visitors this April to see the flowers all abloom. It’s a stunning display of colors and shapes, a visual and physical connection to nature that will ground you and remind you to take a deep breath and smell the metaphorical roses. The origins of gorgeous gardens can be traced back to Muskogee’s founders, who bought the tract of land the park is on back in 1909.

“Honor Heights Park is known as the gem of Muskogee,” says Justin O’Neal, tourism director of the Greater Muskogee Chamber of Commerce. “Our founders wanted to dedicate a plot of land where people would come from all over to experience nature. Unlike many other parks that used to be something else, this was made specifically to be a park. Muskogee is very park oriented. We have a top-notch park and recreation team.”

The city’s dedication to providing natural beauty for its citizens is evident as you walk or drive through Honor Heights Park, which features lovely, rolling grass lawns, and impressive gardens. Of course, you’ll want to view the azalea bushes and pose for a photo in front of them, a tradition that goes back to the first Azalea Festival in 1968. But don’t skip the elaborate tulip garden, which is also stellar and full of riotous color. Look for blooming dogwoods and wisteria as well.

If you want to wander, there are trails to walk or jog, bird watching opportunities, picnic tables, and ponds for fishing. “Year-round, we have beautiful seasonal gardens,” says O’Neal. But during April, when the Azalea Festival happens, the city hosts a variety of events, both in the park and around the city, all of which make a visit to Muskogee well worth the drive.

One of the biggest event days is April 11, which kicks off at 8 a.m. with the Muskogee Run. Then, at 11 a.m., the 53rd Annual Azalea Festival Parade takes place in downtown Muskogee. “We’ll be celebrating springtime here in Muskogee,” says O’Neal, “with area bands and lots of fun.” This year’s parade theme is “Television Shows throughout the Decades.” Parade-goers can expect to see floats decked out in that nostalgic TV show theme, as well as antique cars, clowns, pageant queens, horseback riders, motorcyclists, and more.

“The annual Cruizader Car and Truck Show takes place that day as well, as soon as the parade is over,” adds O’Neal. “There are numerous classic cars. Come and vote for your favorite.” Awards include Top 25, Best Engine, Best Interior, Original Classic, Best in Show Truck, Best in Show Car, Best Home-built Hot Rod, Long Distance, and a special Kid’s Class Award.

If food is your thing, Muskogee has you covered this month as well. The weekend of April 17-18 gives rise to the 36th Annual Exchange Club of Muskogee Chili and BBQ Cookoff, which is being held this year at Hatbox Field, the city’s fairgrounds facility, which is conveniently located off Highway 69, close to Honor Heights Park.

“Holding the cookoff at Hatbox Field is a move that will make the cookoff bigger than it’s ever been,” says O’Neal. “The space makes it both cook team and visitor friendly.” The event begins April 17, with a kick-off concert by Cody Canada and The Departed in Hatbox Hangar 1. Then, April 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cooking throwdown takes place.

“Each year, we see teams from all across the country come to compete in all kinds of cooking competitions,” says O’Neal. “We average about 100 vendors, and people can go through and sample something from every booth. It’s $5 per person, free for ages 5 and under.” In addition to food tastings, visitors can enjoy the Beer Garden, live music performances, and Kids Zone. The cookoff raises funds to benefit children’s charities in Muskogee.

Other events happening in April in conjunction with the Azalea Festival include the Flower Power Bike Ride (April 25), featuring 20-, 30-, 50-, 65-, and 100-mile routes with road support; the Party in the Park (April 25), which is a wine tasting event inside Honor Heights Park among the blooms; and the Touch a Truck Event (April 25, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at Muskogee-Davis Regional Airport. “Children can climb on a fire truck, race cars, antique cars, forklifts, helicopters, and other vehicles,” says O’Neal. ”The event is put on by the Muskogee Public Library. Admission is just $2.”

Even if you come down on a day in April other than April 11, April 17-18, or April 25, not to worry, says O’Neal. The park is open daily to visitors from dawn to dusk. Visit the fun Katy District shopping area or one of the area’s many museums. “Something is going on almost every day.”

For updated event information visit visitmuskogee.com.

LOCATOR
Azalea Festival
Honor Heights Park | Muskogee
visitmuskogee.com
April 1-30