Revived Costa Mesa tradition attracts kids to Lions Park. Crows? Not so much.

Scarecrows submitted by individuals and community groups lined up Saturday at Lions Park for the daylong Scarecrow Festival.
Scarecrows submitted by individuals and community groups are lined up Saturday at Lions Park for the daylong Scarecrow Festival and competition
(Spencer Grant)

Visitors to Costa Mesa’s Lions Park on Saturday were treated to a fall-themed spectacle, as children, adults and civic leaders celebrated a tradition with deep stakes in the city’s history — the Scarecrow Festival.

About 13 competitive entries, most submitted by local community groups and nonprofits, were scrutinized by a panel of judges as part of a daylong fall festival featuring fun activities, music and a children’s costume parade.

Some straw figures wore witch’s garb, while others posed with sunflowers or books and still others evoked beloved activities such as gardening or train riding. The winning entry was “Scarecrow on Wheels,” created by the Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets.

A blossom display adorns a scarecrow entry called "Fred Fall and the Sunflowers" Saturday at Costa Mesa's Lions Park.
A blossom display adorns a scarecrow entry called “Fred Fall and the Sunflowers” Saturday at Lions Park in Costa Mesa, scene of the city sponsored Scarecrow Festival.
(Spencer Grant)

The entry helped call attention to the mission of the group, which formed in 2019 to help galvanize resident interest in safer, more bike-friendly streets into a citywide effort.

CMABS founding member Russell Toler said Monday while building a scarecrow seems to be a simple endeavor, there’s much more to the process.

“After you fill some clothes with hay, you think, now I’ve got to make it stand up — it doesn’t have any bones,” he said Monday, indicating the PCV pipes helped prop the strawman up. “We just wanted to have a bike as part of it. Then it all started to come together.”

The festive display of scarecrows in Costa Mesa dates back as far as 1938, when residents were invited to craft their own creations out of anything within reach — some early entries featured flowers or even auto parts.

An entry at the Scarecrow Festival reminds people about free model train rides at Fairview Park.
An engineer-themed entry at Costa Mesa’s Scarecrow Festival Saturday reminds people free model train rides are available at Fairview Park.
(Spencer Grant)

After a few years, the original festival went into a sort of hibernation and did not see full sun again until a handful of civic-minded residents decided in 2013 it was time for a reprise. The event was brought to Fairview Park, near the O.C. Model Engineers’ Goat Hill Junction train depot.

At that two-day event, residents could cast votes for their favorite scarecrow, while children and adults enjoyed free public rides on the model tracks. But the pandemic last year brought that joyride to a standstill, and it seemed once more an effort would have to be undertaken to revive the tradition.

This year, members of the city’s Parks and Community Services Department decided to bring the Scarecrow Festival to the newly renovated Lions Park, which features an open space for public events.

"Scarecrow on Wheels" from the Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets.
The winning scarecrow entry at Saturday’s contest was “Scarecrow on Wheels” from the Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets.
(Spencer Grant)

Recreation Manager Monique Villasenor said given recent restoration efforts at Fairview, changing the venue seemed like the right thing to do.

“With the sensitivities of the park and trying to be aware of the uses there, we thought we’d take advantage of our new event lawn,” she said.

Speaking after the event, Parks and Community Services Director Jason Minter said the new location provided an opportunity to change things up and engage the community in a different format.

“The kids in costumes were so much fun to see, and we look forward to building an event bigger event next year,” Minter said Monday in an email. “So, this serves as a challenge to all residents and businesses to start planning your scarecrows for 2022!”

A children's costume parade struts at Lions Park to the tune of "Monster Mash."
Members of a children’s costume parade Saturday strut their stuff at Lions Park to the tune of “Monster Mash” at Costa Mesa’s Scarecrow Festival.
(Spencer Grant)

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