30th Caro­line Sum­merfest be­gins Fri­day

Times-Record - - FRONT PAGE - By CAROL D’AGOSTINO

— In 1987, when Pat Bern­stein, press sec­re­tary for the late Mary­land Gov. Wil­liam Don­ald Schaefer, pitched an idea for a cy­cling event that would have bi­cy­clists tra­verse the state in a multi-day tour, she had no idea that the mo­men­tum cre­ated would rip­ple across the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to Den­ton.

Un­be­knownst to her, a much-beloved event called Caro­line Sum­merfest would emerge from a statewide cy­cling event and con­tinue for 30 years.

This year’s Caro­line Sum­merfest next week­end will at­tract more than 10,000 vis­i­tors to down­town Den­ton to sam­ple a va­ri­ety of foods pro­vided by lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, visit ven­dor booths and shake hands with politi­cians.

Cel­e­brat­ing “30 years of magic,” Caro­line Sum­merfest will fea­ture day­long mu­si­cal per­for­mances on the county seat’s his­toric court­house green, the pop­u­lar Ri­vah Run on the Chop­tank River, a car show and crui­sein, and tra­di­tional street fair ac­tiv­i­ties for all ages.

Af­ter two years of de­vel­op­ment, Schaefer’s ini­tia­tive called Cy­cle Across Mary­land launched its in­au­gu­ral tour un­der Bern­stein’s lead­er­ship in 1989. CAM’s pur­pose was to pro­mote the state, as well as cy­cling as a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity.

Al­though map­ping out the event was a huge un­der­tak­ing, the com­mu­nity co­or­di­na­tion re­quired for traf­fic con­trol, lodg­ing and hospi­tal­ity was an­other mas­sive part of the puz­zle for Bern­stein and her team, and they turned to com­mu­ni­ties like Den­ton.

“We re­lied on com­mu­nity lead­ers like those we found in Caro­line County and Den­ton to make the event pos­si­ble,” Bern­stein said.

In ad­di­tion to traf­fic con­trol from Mary­land State Po­lice and the lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, each town where the cy­clists stopped for the night needed to pro­vide hospi­tal­ity.

“Host towns were en­cour­aged to plan for 1,000 cy­clists in the in­au­gu­ral year. Other com­mit­ments were an evening meal and break­fast, and some sort of en­ter­tain­ment at the des­ti­na­tion,” Bern­stein said.

Dr. Al­lan Gor­such was as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent of schools for Caro­line County when he learned about CAM’s in­au­gu­ral tour. “We of­fered two op­tions at North Caro­line High School — bivouac camp­ing out­side on the grounds, as well as in­doors in the gym,” he said.

Those cy­clists look­ing for ad­di­tional ameni­ties like air con­di­tion­ing were in­vited into the homes of mem­bers of the Den­ton Woman’s Club for a nom­i­nal fee.

Sue Sim­mons, head of Caro­line County Recre­ation and Parks, and other county and town de­part­ments worked on lo­gis­tics and got the word out to lo­cals who were in­ter­ested in check­ing out the en­ter­tain­ment and wel­com­ing the cy­clists.

So on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 16, 1989, the cy­clists ar­rived in Den­ton af­ter a rough cou­ple days of rainy weather. They set­tled into their ac­com­mo­da­tions, en­joyed an evening meal and were even treated to fresh peaches that were picked from a lo­cal or­chard.

The en­ter­tain­ment por­tion of the evening was a small, block party-style event on Mar­ket Street in front of court­house. Cy­clists were driven down­town by their host fam­i­lies or by school bus driv­ers who vol­un­teered their time.

Non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions sold fes­ti­val foods at the event. Mu­sic pro­vided by Swing Cen­tral, a pop­u­lar Bal­ti­more five-piece en­sem­ble, at­tracted cy­clists and res­i­dents alike.

Event or­ga­niz­ers re­al­ized some­thing very spe­cial had just hap­pened.

“I re­mem­ber that Sue Sim­mons and I were lit­er­ally stand­ing on the court­house lawn at the end of the evening,” said Ge­orge Weeks, hu­man re­sources cor­po­rate man­ager at Mary­land

Plas­tics in Fed­er­als­burg. “I turned to her and said, ‘You do know that you have no choice, but we have to con­tinue this?’”

That mo­ment marked the birth of Caro­line Sum­merfest.

Cy­cle Across Mary­land would trek across Mary­land for an­other 19 years, com­plet­ing its last trip in 2008, its 20th year. But the “ac­ci­den­tal” sig­na­ture event of Caro­line Sum­merfest con­tin­ues to grow and evolve. Over the next 29 years, its event foot­print would ul­ti­mately ex­pand to two days and en­com­pass the tree-lined court­house lawn and four blocks of the county seat.

“Over the years, we added themes start­ing in 1996, fire­works in 1998 and a pedes­trian pa­rade in 2008,” Sim­mons said. She con­tin­ues to serve as event co­or­di­na­tor for Sum­merfest in part­ner­ship with Den­ton Town Ad­min­is­tra­tor Don Mul­rine.

The event typ­i­cally draws be­tween 12,000 and 14,000 fes­ti­val-go­ers.

“Caro­line Sum­merfest is a huge un­der­tak­ing that re­lies heav­ily on the strong part­ner­ship be­tween the town and county, the fi­nan­cial sup­port from our cor­po­rate spon­sors and the more than 200 vol­un­teers who help ex­e­cute the event,” Sim­mons said. “It is a la­bor of love.”

This year’s Caro­line Sum­merfest will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Fri­day, Aug. 17, and from 2 to 9 p.m. Satur­day, Aug. 18.

So what’s the se­cret to the longevity of this ac­ci­den­tal sig­na­ture event?

“To me, it’s the di­ver­sity,” Weeks said. “Over the years, we’ve seen other events fall to the way­side, but Sum­merfest has grown and evolved to be­come the heart and soul of Caro­line County. There’s so many things for kids and adults to do.”

Weeks said non­prof­its and busi­nesses have had suc­cess do­ing out­reach at Sum­merfest.

“Over the years, I’ve worn dif­fer­ent hats at Sum­merfest — as a Ro­tar­ian, a cor­po­rate spon­sor, vice pres­i­dent of Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity and with the Cham­ber of Com­merce,” Weeks said. “The event pro­vides a great way for busi­nesses and non­prof­its to suc­cess­fully mar­ket di­rectly to fam­i­lies. It al­ways amazes me to ob­serve the sleepi­ness of the Thurs­day be­fore Sum­merfest and then in con­trast how the whole place seems to fill up on Fri­day.”

For Deb­bie Bowden, di­rec­tor of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment for Caro­line County, the eco­nomic im­pact that events like Caro­line Sum­merfest have on the per­cep­tion of a town can’t be un­der­stated.

“A ju­ris­dic­tion needs to put them­selves out there. It’s all about mar­ket­ing and brand­ing,” she said. “Sum­merfest, and events like it, in­form fes­ti­val-go­ers of a lo­ca­tion’s cul­ture and the at­ti­tude of the area in a very or­ganic way.”

Al­though Caro­line Sum­mer fest was cre­ated through hap­pen­stance, its im­pact on the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple touched by the event is far-reach­ing.

“A lot of what we did ac­ci­den­tally to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment for our vis­i­tors turned out pretty good,” Gor­such said. “If you have a re­ally good idea, you’ll find a way to make it hap­pen. Sum­merfest is one of those suc­cess sto­ries that’s a part of our his­tory and that we are all proud to be part of.”

To learn more about this year’s Caro­line Sum­merfest, visit car­o­li­ne­sum­mer­fest. com.

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

Many vis­i­tors to the 2012 Caro­line Sum­merfest dressed as “Wizard of Oz” char­ac­ters since the 1939 film was that year’s fes­ti­val theme. Cos­tumed as char­ac­ters were, from left, San­dra Cal­la­han as Dorothy, Brenna Cal­la­han as the Cow­ardly Lion and Ben­jamin Cal­la­han as the Scare­crow.

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

Caro­line County’s two high schools joined forces at the 2017 Caro­line Sum­merfest in Den­ton. On the left is North Caro­line High School’s Band of Blue per­form­ing with Colonel Richard­son High School’s Spirit of the Rev­o­lu­tion Band.

Amer­i­can Cor­ner res­i­dent Ge­orge Jack­son will have his 24th an­nual Christ­mas Scrolls for de­ployed U.S. Troops at Caro­line Sum­merfest in Den­ton on Fri­day, Aug. 18, and Satur­day, Aug. 19.

PHO­TOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Bray­den Brooks en­joyed the kids’ gi­ant sand­box at the 2016 Caro­line Sum­merfest in down­town Den­ton.

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