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Town hall meeting: Festival may see changes

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By Brandon Mattingly

How to improve the Kentucky Crossroads Harvest Festival was the topic of a town hall  meeting the Washington County Chamber of Commerce hosted at Mordecai’s in Springfield last Wednesday.

Chamber of Commerce President John Weis posed the question of how to enhance the event to several community members and local officials, who agreed changes need to be made.
Chamber members are hoping to increase turnout at future events, while also finding ways to include more of what makes Washington County unique.

Springfield Tourism Commission Executive Director Kathy Elliott pointed out that many other nearby communities have major events around the same time, and she offered one suggestion.

“We compete with so many other events like the St. James Art Fair and the Perryville Battle,” she said. “There are so many big, established events on that particular weekend. I just think we should get a festival before a lot of other festivals are coming around. Revamp it to the spring and play on our (Springfield) name.”

Another suggestion came from Susan Spalding, who said that a single, three-day festival may not be the answer at all.

“Maybe we don’t really need one big festival. Maybe we have a series of great (one-day) events, so that we get different ages and different people and different tourists coming to visit a theme, because not everything is going to be for everybody,” she said.

City Administrator Laurie Smith added that people want a change, and it’s up to the community leaders to decide what the best course of action is.

“Fall festivals were huge 30 years ago, even 20 years ago. I think fall festivals have kind of worn out because there’s so much competition,” she said. “I think that maybe people are ready for something new, and I think the community is starting to talk about some branding efforts. What do we want to brand ourselves as?”

Whether the community decided to stick with a three-day festival or switch to a series of events, an identifiable theme or brand that incorporates all of Washington County was a major issue that the group agreed needed to be addressed.

“We’re in the middle of the Bourbon Trail. We’re in the middle of the Wine Trail. We’re in the middle of the Scenic Byway trail. We’re in the middle of the Lincoln Trail. We have our own history and culture here with lots of arts and lots of music,” said Spalding. “We’ve got so much that we could focus on and bring together, but we need to be really dynamic.”

No decisions about the future of the Harvest Festival were made at last week’s meeting, but plenty of seeds were planted to get people around the community thinking about what the fate of the festival will be.

Steve Miller, who has worked with several chambers in the state, said one thing that’s missing from Washington County that more successful areas have had is a major sponsorship and the influx of money and resources that result from it.

“I look at counties that have been very successful, and the chamber is not the key group involved. The chamber works with a sponsor,” Miller said. “Look at what happened in your sister county, Marion County. Last year, Ham Days almost doubled the number of people that showed up. They got Jim Beam, who was instrumental in helping them develop that. Other counties are doing the same thing.”

The meeting was used to discuss the need for more volunteer support for the event, but also potentially more paid workers, which would be easier to accommodate with a sponsorship.

“You can’t work your volunteers to death. Having paid workers is essential to making things work,” Smith said. “Volunteers get tired, and it’s hard to keep volunteers that you wear out enthused.”

No changes to the festival are imminent. Weiss pointed out that organization of this year’s October celebration began about a month ago. Changes may be on the horizon, however, as the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the community search for the new identity of their biggest annual event.