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Smith River Fest to go on, rain or shine

Friday, August 9, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin staff writer

Saturday’s Smith River Fest will be held rain or shine, and organizers have their paddles crossed that rain in the forecast will not impact the number of participants.

National Weather Service meteorologists predict a 60 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms for at least some of the afternoon hours of the fest, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton.

If clear skies prevail, “I would not be surprised if we saw a crowd of 2,000 to 2,500” at the festival, said Brian Williams, Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) project manager and organizer of the fest that celebrates “all things associated with the Smith River: paddling, hiking, biking, fishing and nature watching.”

Williams and Jennifer Doss, director of tourism with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., both hope the crowd is record setting.

Two things are certain, Williams said: “We have marketed it far and wide and we’ve got a lot of good feedback from people.”

Last year, “we actually counted 1,300” attendees, he said. “I believe we would have done better last year” if the weather had cooperated, he added.

Doss estimated the 2012 crowd at 1,500.

“We had so many people there that we had to divert staff” to the festival from other projects, Doss said. “That’s a good problem to have, but this year, we will have staff that are delegated” or assigned to certain duties/tasks during the event, she said.

Organizers also are planning to use different tools to collect “more sophisticated data this year,” and use some “different tracking mechanisms just to help us get a handle” on the number of visitors, where they stay, eat or shop while in the area and other information, Doss said.

Based on the data from a short survey done last year, Doss said the average group size of participants was 2.6 people. Also, 29 percent of the guests were repeat participants who had attended at least one of the festivals that have been held since 2008.

The remaining 71 percent were first-time festival goers, she said.

An estimated 24 percent were guests from out of the area, Doss said.

In addition to participants from Virginia, the fest also attracted visitors from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida, she said.

“The potential economic impact on the community can be huge,” Williams said. “That’s why we track the number of people who come in, the average amount of spending that someone does and of course, ... how far they come and whether they are local or not.”

Williams added that “even local people spend money to come. The festival itself, of course, is free but people still have to buy gas and food, and whatever they may choose to buy from vendors. We have 120 vendors this year, which is double from last year, and of course the 4.8-mile River Race and the Helgramite Hustle 5K Mud Run” will attract a number of participants.

Other services/events include free on-site bicycle loans; corn hole, bounce houses and other games for the whole family; free canoe rides for those aged 18 and under; live music; food vendors; a beer garden; and other activities, he said.

“The outside impact for area businesses I believe is great,” Williams said. Visitors “may not eat at the fest. They may eat at other places in town, and we do have people come in and stay overnight” and they may stay at area hotels.

Fees to enter the festival’s races are put back into the budget for expenses related to the following year’s festival, he said.


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