Gro­ton’s Home­town Pride


The Day - Sound & Country - - Hometown Pride - By SU­SAN BAN­NING Day Staff Writer

BBe­cause part of Mys­tic is in Gro­ton, the lat­ter’s iden­tity some­times can be over­shad­owed by the very ex­cit­ing events that hap­pen near the river and the bas­cule bridge. In ad­di­tion to what’s on the cal­en­dar in Mys­tic, Gro­ton is also home to events that have at­tracted a de­voted fol­low­ing and are get­ting big­ger ev­ery year. One ex­am­ple is Gro­ton’s Fall Fes­ti­val, which will be held Oct. 11 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The third an­nual event will fea­ture ac­tiv­i­ties aimed to please every­one in the fam­ily, from a car show to a karaoke con­test to skate­board­ing to live mu­sic, plus a wide as­sort­ment of ven­dors. The em­pha­sis is on lo­cal ven­dors of food, arts and crafts and area busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Most of the action is at Po­quon­nock Plains Park, but the car show is at Grasso Tech (also the main park­ing area; shut­tles will run con­tin­u­ously). The skate­board­ing com­pe­ti­tion will take place at Sut­ton Park, which is right near the main venue.

Other things go­ing on through­out the day in­clude a farm­ers mar­ket, dis­plays from 14 area fire de­part­ments (it will be Fire Preven­tionWeek) with their ap­pa­ra­tus, plus a Na­tional Guard Black Hawk he­li­copter.

“It’s a pretty big range of events,” said Jim Bates, who works for Ed­ward Jones in Mys­tic and, with Real­tor Lian Obrey, is co-chair­ing the event for the Gro­ton Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion of the Greater Mys­tic Cham­ber of Com­merce. “It’s quite a day. I can’t think of any­one who will be bored or miss out on some­thing.”

Young kids will be en­ter­tained all day with such crowd-pleasers as a bouncy house and play­ground right nearby, and every­one will get a kick out of the karaoke con­test.

“I can’t be­lieve peo­ple are that coura­geous,” said FrankWin­kler of Gro­ton Util­i­ties, a GBA mem­ber in­volved with event pro­mo­tion. “AndyWarhol once talked about the 15 min­utes of fame… th­ese peo­ple have about two or three min­utes.”

In past years, the con­test has had more than its fair share of par­tic­i­pants as this bar­room phe­nom­e­non of the 1990s has re­tained its pop­u­lar­ity.

“I think ‘Amer­i­can Idol’ has kept it alive,” Bates said.

The fes­ti­val it­self has been grow­ing steadily since its first year, prov­ing that Gro­ton res­i­dents are ea­ger to have a cel­e­bra­tion of their home­town. Win­kler said the first year at­tracted around 3,000 peo­ple, and about 5,000 at­tended in 2007. As a rain-or-shine event, it is weath­erde­pen­dent, and so far the choice of date has been for­tu­itous.

“Hope­fully the good for­tune will con­tinue to shine,” Win­kler said. “It is very dif­fi­cult to do Sun­day rain dates. On Fri­day night, we’re sweat­ing out the radar.”

Ev­ery year, the com­mit­tee has been fine-tuning the lo­gis­tics of the event and learn­ing through ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The first year— we didn’t re­al­ize it at the time— Fitch had a morn­ing home foot­ball game,” Win­kler said. “Talk about traf­fic. That might have ac­tu­ally helped us, but we are pay­ing at­ten­tion to things like that now.”

Said Bates: “There has been a lot of em­pha­sis on the lo­gis­tics such as park­ing. We have sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved hand­i­cap park­ing, for in­stance. The ac­ces­si­bil­ity is much bet­ter now.”

All of this is in hopes that Gro­ton res­i­dents and be­yond come to check out the eclec­tic mix of events and ven­dors that are in town. Where else can you get a con­cert (by 9Teen) and watch a he­li­copter take off?

“There’s al­ways a large group to watch that he­li­copter,” saidWin­kler of the end of the day’s fes­tiv­i­ties. “The lit­tle ones and the big­ger ones we call adults just love that.”

In gen­eral, there is some­thing for every­one, which is just how the or­ga­niz­ers planned it.

“None of this could have taken off without the sup­port of the com­mu­nity at large,” Bates said. “It’s an in­ter­ac­tive day on all sides, from both the par­tic­i­pants’ and ven­dors’ points of view.”


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