Freeland Walleye Festival Returns with fishing, carnival, yard sales, duck races, and more

The Freeland Walleye Festival has become a yearly tradition for fishing and family fun for many in the Great Lakes Bay region.. The 36th annual event, hosted in Freeland from Thursday, April 28 through Sunday, May 1, includes new activities like duck races and a youth corn hole tournament. 

Jason Swartz, festival chairman, says the event started with the Freeland Chamber of Commerce as the host, before the Lions Club picked up the event. “The rumor has it, it started with just fishing, and after the walleye tournament, it started evolving to include garage sales, adding more stuff every year, to where we have it now,” he says.

The Freeland Walleye Festival Kids’ Trout pond will be held in the recently renamed Hayes Park.
One of the event founders, Rick Hayes, passed away in April last year. Hayes was a devoted member of the Freeland Lions Club, and active in the community’s parks and recreation activities. Last September,  Tittabawassee Township Park, located at 9200 Midland Road in Freeland, was renamed Hayes Park, in his honor. This year, it is the host of the Freeland Walleye Festival Kids’ Trout pond.

The goal of the festival is to raise money for the Freeland Lions Club, which contributes to the less fortunate in the Freeland area. “All the money we raise goes towards local, needy families,” Swartz says.  “Whether it’s helping with home repairs, medical bills, whatever it might be, they contact us and this is the majority of how we make that money. We try to keep it into our local community. The Lions Club motto is ‘we serve,’ so that’s one of the ways we try to serve here is by putting on this, taking all the money we get, and that’s basically what this event is towards, is helping the community.”

The festival paused in 2020 due to COVID-19. Last year, the event was a bit smaller, but this year’s event has expanded to include new activities. “We have a duck race running from Freeland Bridge to Memorial Park Thursday night at 6 p.m. We’re going to have a poker tournament on Thursday, we have a fish pong (beer pong) tournament. This year, we started a juniors corn hole tournament for high school aged kids and younger,” Swartz said.
The beer tent will host Stone Street Revival and the Sinclairs at the Walleye Festival.
Most events are free, but there will be costs at the beer tent, carnival, and with food vendors. The festival also includes vendor spaces, community-wide garage sales, a car show, kids trout pond at Hayes Park, a carnival at Burt Watson Chevrolet, bingo, and disc golf tournament. There will be live music from Stone Street Revival on Friday night, and The Sinclairs on Saturday night. Union members can receive their $5 beer tent admission fee waived, and get their first drink free on Friday night.

Community-wide garage sale maps are available online. Welcome centers are located at Freeland Bean & Grain,1100 East Washington Road, or the 7-11,795 Tittabawassee Road. They’ll have shirts and merchandise for sale and in-store deals. Visitors can also pick up  guides, festival information and maps 

“It’s a really good time, a great family atmosphere that we have there. There are quite a few people that come through town, so I just hope everybody has a fun and enjoyable time,” Swartz says.  


Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at