By Ashley Rader
Organizers of this year’s Covered Bridge Celebration believe the festival had a record attendance during the annual event that marked the 130th anniversary of the historic structure.
Interim Chamber of Commerce Director and Carter County Tourism Coordinator Annika Hampton said the early estimates show that the 2012 Covered Bridge Celebration could have had the highest attendance that the festival has had in recent years. Attendance during the three days of the Covered Bridge Celebration ranked between as high as 18,000 people during the festival.
“It was a record-breaking year,” Hampton said. “Saturday (June 9) was a big day. I think people were pleased with the changes that were made to the Covered Bridge Celebration this year.”
The biggest changes that were made this year was the arts and crafts vendors were moved back to the Covered Bridge Park which is where they were traditionally. Hampton said both the vendors and the visitors to the festival made positive comments about the relocation.
“Moving the vendors back to the park really improved the atmosphere of the festival,” she said. “The vendors weren’t as spread out as they were in downtown so visitors did not have to walk as far as they would have in the past. The trees and the river made it feel cooler for the vendors and the visitors. They could also hear the entertainment from the stage which is something they could not have done when the vendors were located on Elk Avenue (through downtown).”
The vendors were also pleased with the new organization of the check-in procedures, the layout of the vendor area and the hospitality RV that was sponsored by Hale Community Ministries. This year, the Chamber started a new check-in schedule that gave each vendor a pre-set time to arrive at the festival. This was done to cut down on the confusion that would occur when the vendors would all arrive at the same time to set up.
She noted visitors commented positively about the layout of all the vendors, not just the arts and crafts vendors in the park. She said they liked the way the booths were set up because one area flowed smoothly into the next which made it easy to navigate the festival. The Chamber also received positive feedback on the Kid’s Island area and the souvenir keepsakes that were produced for the festival.
Hampton added there were some changes that could be made to improve the festival. She said the committee planed to work to incorporate some additional form of entertainment for the crowd to fill the “dead air” space between acts on the main stage.
One of the largest complaints the Chamber received was tied in largely to the record attendance for the event. Since the Chamber could not foresee that a record-breaking crowd would attend the festival, the same number of port-a-potties that was used in previous years was ordered for this year’s festival as well. The larger number of people resulted in longer wait times at the temporary restroom facilities.
For the future of the festival, Hampton said the committee planned to look into ways to be “greener” at the event. She said they would like to incorporate a bike parking area which would encourage people who live near the festival to ride their bicycles. It would also provide a space for people to safely store their bikes instead of trying to navigate them through the vendor tents. They also plan to install recycling bins along with regular trash receptacles.
The committee would like to expand the number of arts and crafts vendors in the future Covered Bridge Celebrations and Hampton thinks that returning the vendors to the park will help that.
“I do think we will be able to expand the vendors because they are back in the park,” she said. “The vendors did enjoy being back in the park. I think word will spread and some of the vendors who used to come but stopped will come back and we will be able to pick up new vendors as well.”
Another possibility for the future of the Covered Bridge Celebration is to have two stages for entertainment instead of one and to incorporate themed activities into the festival for the crowd to participate in. One example is if the headlining band for the night played beach themed music then there would be activities like hula hooping for the visitors.
Hampton added the Chamber planned to lock in a sponsor for the fireworks show that was held at the event this year. She said the show was a big hit with the crowd and the Chamber plans to make the show bigger for next year’s Covered Bridge Celebration.