GROTON -- With students returning to school, summer turning to autumn, and the first leaves falling from the trees, it must be time for Groton's annual community celebration looked forward to by young and old alike.

This year, Grotonfest has been scheduled for Sept. 21, when the weather is likely to be cooperative and most folks will be around, having ended their vacation cycles, settling in for the coming winter.

Just in case it's needed, a rain date for the event has been set for Sept. 22.

Grotonfest takes place on the green expanse of Legion Common located off Hollis Street alongside the historic Old Burial Ground. First held over 30 years ago as Septemberfest, Grotonfest was renamed over a decade ago, when the Groton Business Association took it over. The Groton Board of Trade eventually transformed it from a purely cultural celebration to one that spotlights handcrafts while also promoting local businesses.

Today, the event is sponsored by Groton Networking.

With its mix of advertising, crafts, food, music, entertainment and, of course, local pols, Grotonfest has attracted as many as 5,000-6,000 people in past years, and planners expect no different this time.

To keep those numbers up, this year's event will include a record number of booths, more than 170, manned by an array of business people, crafters, nonprofits and local politicians.

"The number of people to expect all depends on the weather," said Jane Bouvier, who has been chief organizer of Grotonfest for the last 21 years. "Everything depends on the weather. If it's a beautiful day and not raining, we'll do three, four, five thousand people. So, hopefully, we'll have cool, crisp weather, which is what I want."

Helping to ensure a strong turnout will be an array of attractions, including food vendors, music and kids' entertainment.

"We have a good lineup of musical talent this year," said Bouvier, noting that Peter Ward's band Amarillo and the Thomas More College chamber singers are topping the bill.

Also in the mix will be blues cover band Zymurgy and folk group Black Tea Project.

Between acts, there will be performances by three local dance groups and karate and yoga demonstrations by Luth's Karate and Buddha Nest Yoga, respectively.

Rounding out the bill will be Animal Adventures from Bolton, Fire Department trucks kids can explore and video interviews before a green screen produced by the Groton Channel.

And once visitors have built up an appetite, they can sample food from a wide range of vendors, including the Fire Department's traditional sausages and hot dogs; hamburgers offered by Shirley's Bull Run restaurant; always popular fried dough by the Center Stage Dancers; pulled pork from Devens Grille; cupcakes and cookies from Dolce restaurant of Pepperell; coffee and donuts from Dunkin' Donuts; pizza from Festa Woodfired Pizza; popcorn and water to wash it down with offered by Seven Hills Pediatrics Center; healthy stuff to eat from the Groton and Pepperell Rotary Club; homemade pies and ice cream from the Groton Women's Club; and the Groton Wellness Center's local grass-fed beef chili.

Proceeds from this year's raffle will be split 50/50, with half going to the Groton Commission's Children's Fund.

Grotonfest will also fund a scholarship for a deserving Groton-Dunstable senior this year from whatever proceeds are collected at the event.

Naturally, all that didn't just come together by itself; a lot of planning went into the effort to make this year's Grotonfest the best yet.

"I started planning the day after last year's event," said Bouvier, who nevertheless didn't do it alone, having help from Dale Martin, assistant coordinator for booths, and logistics coordinator Patrick Kiley. "I couldn't have done it without them," she said. 

But despite her long experience in putting the event together and strong evidence of its past success seen in its growth year by year, Bouvier's position as chief organizer was challenged in a manner that upset her.

The hurt was evident at a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, when Bouvier came close to tears while at the microphone, informing the town that Grotonfest was a go for the end of September.

When asked about the nature of the challenge to her position, Bouvier had little to say.

"Everybody has been incredibly supportive," was all she has chosen to volunteer on the subject, preferring to draw strength from her friends than disappointment from her critics.

Grotonfest will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with information available online at grotonfest.com.

"It's something I enjoy doing," said Bouvier of her continued commitment to Grotonfest. "I do it well and love seeing the community come together.

"For instance, a man I don't even know called me the other day to say that Grotonfest was just an amazing day where he got to see all of his family and friends," she said. "And that's just what it's all about. It's about the community coming together and helping each other out. Also, local businesses get to show what they do, making it a great way to get themselves out there before the public."