There will be milestones and firsts aplenty at this year's Oktoberfest in Hays.

Arguably the community's signature event in terms of longevity, popularity and polarization, this Friday's Oktoberfest is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Held every year in conjunction with homecoming activities at Fort Hays State University, the celebration of Volga German heritage originally was seen as a way to connect the school with the community. Evidence of its success is seen in the massive crowd filling Frontier Park come rain or shine.

Visitors this year will be treated to a new sight -- organized activity on the north side of the dike. The Ellis County Historical Society is planning a family friendly and alcohol-free "Honor Our Heritage Day" in this space. The society has coordinated historical interpreters, traditional work demonstrations, folk music and local cuisine favorites to complement the daylong celebration on the south side.

Regular attendees of Oktoberfest need not worry about the change. The great beer, food, music and company they've come to expect will be there the same as always. Afterward, thanks to unruly behavior of a small number of revelers, law enforcement will be out in force. So will the Safe Ride vans. If your prearranged ride home doesn't materialize for whatever reason, don't risk driving home. Call (785) 621-2580.

2012 also marks the first time Oktoberfest has a primary sponsor. Eagle Communications has stepped up its partnership with the university which will allow the event to grow in the future.

This year is the first since 2001 Hays isn't home to two Oktoberfests. For the past decade, a splinter group from the original fest had thrown the Midwest Deutsches Oktoberfest at the fairgrounds. That fest, which featured great beer, food, music and company as well, dissolved over a dispute regarding Sunday sales of alcohol.

And certainly not to be lost in the hoopla surrounding what Oktoberfest is or isn't, is Fort Hays State's homecoming activities. "A Celebration of Tiger Nation" actually began Wednesday and runs through Sunday. Reunions, activities, a bonfire and parade, sporting events of all sorts, dedications and general socializing will fill the days and nights.

Ein Prosit to FHSU, Oktoberfest and der Gem├║tlichkeit!

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net