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Beware of Falling Turkeys
Founded in 1835, Yellville, Arkansas is famous for its annual Turkey Trot Festival and oldest National Wild Turkey Calling Contest in the country held the second weekend in October.
The Turkey Trot festival is held to celebrate one of the states’ biggest exports…as the name indicates turkeys. The town of Yellville has been observing the event for nearly 70 years and one of the main attractions has been “The Turkey Drop” held for the community’s children. The popular tradition, involves tossing live wild turkeys over the town square out of a plane from high altitudes. Crowds would then chase the falling birds.
However, for the first time during the 66th Annual Turkey Trot Festival, no turkeys fell from the sky. Originally, the birds were tossed from the top of the town courthouse. But, they were captured by participants much too quickly and the fun was over before it started. Therefore, it was inevitable someone would eventually use a plane.
I Can Fly if I Have Too!
The practice of throwing turkeys from an airplane came to a screeching halt when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got involved. Apparently they didn’t find anything amusing about it calling the drop "malicious" and "cruel." PETA then cited reports of birds crashing into buildings and cars.
Explaining their involvement " PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said “Obviously, turkeys feel pain and fear just as any cat or dog does. If the Turkey Trot Festival included a 'puppy drop,' the participants would be thrown in jail." To emphasize their point PETA is offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone participating in the Turkey Drop. So far, there have been no takers.
On the other side of the argument are many loyal attendees of the festival who contend otherwise and tell a different story, saying the drop is simply harmless fun. One person who has faithfully came to the event for 15 years declared "The turkeys I've seen just glide down. They don't just fall to the ground."
The explanation continued to clarify the turkeys caught by children weren’t harmed or killed. The kids kept them as pets. Any that managed to evade capture returned to their natural wild habitat. In the event any were injured…those were taken home to become dinner. “The turkeys, that's what they are for anyways, to eat.”
However, the practice of tossing turkeys out of an airplane wasn’t stopped by the enticement of PETA’S reward. The main objection came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), although not for humane issues. Their concern was the FAA outlaws tossing anything out of a moving plane. Pilots caught throwing turkeys, can face fines or lose their license. So, those pilots having participated in the past took the hint.
Although the turkey drop has been a favorite, and responsible for attracting many festival goers from other areas, the town points out there are many other attractions. There are also traditional Arkansas foods, concerts, Miss “Drumsticks” Queen contest and the nationally recognized turkey calling contest sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"There's a lot of things to do at Turkey Trot besides seeing the birds drop” said one Yellville resident. The town hopes fans will continue going to their festival, with or without the Turkey Drop. So, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”
Yellville was incorporated in 1855 and was first known as Shawnee Town. It was later renamed for Arkansas Governor Archibald Yell in the early 1800s. Yell was in the War of 1812, a Federal judge, Congressman and Governor.