Let’s be honest—there are enough Fall Festivals and Harvest Festivals across the country. Are you ready to shake it up a bit? Pick a theme—the more unusual the better—and plan a whole festival or event around it. Having trouble thinking of one? Here are some ideas that are already attracting big crowds:
Cherry Blossom Festival—Virginia Beach, Va.
Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation celebrated its 10th annual Cherry Blossom Festival in March at Red Wing Park. In partnership with Virginia Beach’s Sister City, Miyazaki, Japan, the festival is a celebration of spring, peace, and goodwill during the blossom season. Featuring the rich culture and beauty of traditional Japanese music, arts, and creative activities, the festival is modeled after the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The city and Miyazaki City, Japan, have each benefitted from many generous exchanges since the early 1980s. In 2005, the 150+ Yoshino Cherry Blossom trees were all donated to Red Wing Park as part of the Miyazaki Garden expansion plan, and the trees were planted by the Japan Educational Cultural Center and the Miyazaki Sister City Committee in 2005. Admission to the festival is free, and patrons are encouraged to bring a blankets and lawn chairs to sit down under the beautiful blossoming cherry trees and delight in the artistic performances. More information can be found on www.vbgov.com/parks and visitors are encouraged to follow the festival on social media at #VBCherryBlossom.
Submitted by Jessica Ireland, Marketing & Resource Development Specialist for the Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation Department
Green Thumb Festival—St. Petersburg, Fla.
What started out as a simple Arbor Day celebration has exploded into a weekend of horticulture and garden mania. The city of St. Petersburg’s Green Thumb Festival is the largest of its kind in Pinellas County and promotes tree planting, beautification, and conservation. This annual event, which draws over 100 horticultural vendors from around Florida, is the required component of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA Award.
Entering its 29th year with an expected attendance of approximately 30,000, the success of this free festival has been due to the dedication of the volunteers from partnership organizations: The Garden Club of St. Petersburg; Pinellas County Extension Service; Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association; and Pinellas Technical College. Each organization is responsible for its activity and finding the volunteers needed for that activity.
From soil testing and tool sharpening to all types of plants, palms, and garden art, there is something for every gardening enthusiast at the festival. Additional activities include the Garden Club of St. Petersburg’s Annual Flower Show, Grow and Share programs, a children’s plant fair, plant auction, adult and children’s educational programs, food, and children’s crafts. The Green Thumb Festival is a well-rounded event suitable for the whole family. Could a parade of decorated garden carts be next?
More information on the Green Thumb Festival can be found at www.stpeteparksrec.org/Greenthumb/index.html.
Submitted by Linda Seufert, Parks and Recreation Manager for the city of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival—Las Vegas, Nev.
Clark County Parks and Recreation proudly features the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival year after year. Now in its 22nd year, Age of Chivalry takes place at Las Vegas’ Sunset Park over the course of three days in October.
One of the park’s largest festivals, Age of Chivalry draws tens of thousands of visitors who are transported back through centuries to a time when knights and kings, maidens and wenches, minstrels and jesters ruled the world. The festival features a variety of entertainment from guilds and historical reenactments to artisans and concerts. Combined with plenty of food and drink to satisfy medieval palettes, it is a not-to-miss-event in Las Vegas.
Along with main stage and side stage performances, the festival presents more than 50 shows per day along with historical re-enactments, jousting tournaments, medieval pageantry and more than 100 artisans—including blacksmiths, stained-glass designers, jewelers, wood workers, toy makers, perfume blenders, stone carvers and sword, dagger and armor craftsman—to demonstrate and sell their wares. Age of Chivalry hosts a royal parade featuring kings, queens, warriors and peasants and also offers full-contact jousting tournaments, no-holds-barred gladiator battles, black powder demonstrations, strolling minstrels, contortionists, magicians, storytellers, jokers, jugglers, flame eaters, belly dancers, trained parrots and pirates. Additional attractions include bow-and-arrow and ax target games, medieval barber and surgeon demonstrations and Renaissance guilds.
Submitted by Michelle Wilmoth of PR Plus on behalf of the Clark County Parks and Recreation Department
Black Hills Fat Tire Festival—Rapid City, S.D.
This three-day event was the brainchild of local mountain bike enthusiasts to highlight the area’s natural resources, promote the sport of single-track mountain biking, and gain support for more designated trail systems. Through a partnership between Rapid City Parks & Recreation and the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association, the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival was created as a grassroots effort in 2007. Events include races, rides, vendor areas, socials, a film festival, youth events and more—all centered around mountain biking.
The festival attendance has fluctuated over the years, but one thing is for certain—mountain bikers do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how in shape, out of shape, whatever shape, young, old, tall, short, disabled—enthusiasts like to ride, eat, and have opportunities to rehydrate.
In 2014, the festival’s ownership was transferred to the Rapid City Parks and Recreation Department through an effort to bring the festival headquarters back into the city. With continual support from local bike shops, area businesses, BHMBA and many volunteers, the festival has found a home in Rapid City for years to come.
So why attend the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival? With more than 400 miles of designated and undesignated trails in the Black Hills, Rapid City continues to see that trend of mountain biking as a niche tourism generator. Tourism is a top industry in our area, and the Black Hills attractions have something for everyone—even if you don’t ride.
For details on the weekend’s events vist www.bhfattirefestival.com, or follow us on Facebook. The festival is schedule for the third weekend in June every year.
Submitted by Kristy Lintz, Recreation Program Specialist for the Rapid City Parks & Recreation Department
Spinach Festival—Lenexa, Kan.
“Well, blow me down!” Where could you hobnob with Popeye and Olive Oyl, nosh to your heart’s content on tasty (and sometimes unusual) spinach fare and shop at a variety of art, craft, and antique booths? The Lenexa Spinach Festival, in Lenexa, Kansas, of course.
For more than 30 years, the community has come together on the first Saturday after Labor Day to celebrate the green leafy veggie that brought fame to the city in the early 1930s. Back at the time, Belgian truck farmers in and around Lenexa struggled during the terrible drought, which wiped out most crops in the area. Spinach grew beautifully, but there wasn’t much demand for it. That is until Popeye entered the picture. A buyer from Chicago showed up in the Kansas City market looking for high-quality spinach, which had become in high demand in larger cities because of the famous cartoon sailorman, who was known to eat his spinach anytime he needed a boost of strength. The buyer found the beautiful spinach grown by Lenexa farmers and practically overnight, Lenexa was placed on the map for its exceptional spinach. Kids were pulled from school to help families harvest it as quickly as possible. The railroad and ice companies were booming with business. Spinach helped Lenexa farmers thrive through the drought and Great Depression years.
Organized by Lenexa Parks and Recreation, in partnership with the Lenexa Historical Society, the Lenexa Spinach Festival attracts families from the region for a fun day of shopping, live music, historical demonstrations, kids’ activities and delicious food, including the “World’s Largest Spinach Salad, ” spinach café treats, and samples from the spinach cooking demos. Quirky contests such as Swee’Pea baby crawling, rock skipping and the spinach recipe contest also provide fun entertainment for participants and spectators.
The 2015 Lenexa Spinach Festival is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. More information is available at www.lenexa.com/spinach.
Submitted by Susanne Neely, Recreation Supervisor for the city of Lenexa Parks & Recreation Department.
Ethnic Enrichment Festival—Kansas City, Mo.
Sixty countries and cultures come together to provide food, music, dance, crafts, fashions and cultural information. Vendors are on hand to share their skills during this weekend event while representatives of ethnic groups take to the stage to dance, sing, and entertain festival patrons. All booths are built and decorated by the various ethnic groups the weekend prior to the event while the city’s parks and recreation department provides all of the skilled labor and heavy equipment for setup. This year’s theme for the festival (which ran August 21 through 23) was “Feel the World Beat in the Heart of America.” However, the overall theme for the festival—now in its 36th year—encourages attendees to “Eat Their Way Around the World.” Visit the festival website at www.eeckc.net.
Submitted by Melinda Minks, Special Projects Coordinator for the city of Kansas City’s Parks and Recreation