Carroll County and Town of Hillsville officials are in preliminary talks about combining popular local fall festivals into one mega, multi-day event in order to boost tourism to the area.
Amanda Parris, Tourism Relations Manager for Carroll County, said the idea was to try to combine Carroll County’s Pumpkin Festival and Hillsville’s Chili Shootout with an additional town cruise-in and other fall-themed elements for a Friday and Saturday event at the start of October in 2017
Parris proposed the idea to the Carroll County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 21. She said Carroll County’s Pumpkin Festival was a huge hit its first two years, drawing 1,500 attendees – including 18 percent from outside the Twin Counties – its first year and 3,000 in year two. The event was cancelled this year due to Hurricane Matthew.
“With all that being said, we face some obstacles. Space, we realized after year two that the footprint was a challenge and the event was going to grow,” Parris said. “There are limited facilities just like the (County) fair. We have the challenge that if we have rain that it is kind of an all-or-none thing, but there are some opportunities.”
Parris said new volunteer pools are need, as well as additional staffing and funding for the event to grow. Also, a more natural festival venue and bridging partnerships for the greater good of the community would be a great thing.
“So I’d like to propose that we entertain an option to relocate the Pumpkin Festival to downtown Hillsville, making it a multi-day event using Friday evening as a Cruise-In, which they have had great attendance for, as a sneak peak trial for our first multi-day event,” Parris said.
Artisans could set up Friday night and pumpkin competitions could be held on the Historic Carroll County Courthouse lawn, she said. Partnering with Hillsville in such a manner would create opportunities for businesses and other groups, as well as attracting overnight visitors.
“Some new additions to that would be the Friday night feature. The town is willing to fund a portion of having an additional cruise-in and having the band. We have already talked to them,” Parris said. “We would bring in the artisans village like we do already at the Pumpkin Festival. We want to maintain the quality of that heritage craft and so we have asked them if we can at least have the foyer and porch space of the Carter Home for that first floor for a jury of artisans and have the Carter Home to utilize the other space to have as many vendors as they would like for a fundraising event for them.”
Other opportunities would include allowing the Carroll County Historical Society to have condensed versions of its popular Sidna Allen play Friday and Saturday night to raise more money for the restoration of the historic Sidna Allen Home in Fancy Gap.
She said the Carroll County Middle School FFA would continue to have hay rides and other events during the proposed festival. The local farm bureau has already agreed to serve as judges and the Carroll County High School FCCLA program also is eager to participate.
“And Downtown Hillsville and (Town Manager) Retta Jackson are working on implementing the Farmers Market downtown that is going to be in place by that time, so I think it would be a wonderful thing since it is an agricultural event to invite those vendors to participate in that festival. That would showcase our area even better,” Parris said, noting there would be some hurdles to clear with the Virginia Department of Transportation on a multi-day event.
Parris said she’s also spoken to Travis Jackson about putting in an application for a grant to place banners across Main Street in Hillsville advertising the event months in advance. She said the grant would cover at least 50 percent of the cost, while the town and county would match the other portion.
“So I don’t feel like a financial commitment from the county would be increased at all from where it is now. The town is willing to step up and also match our financial commitment and it stands to be a wonderful thing for our community,” Parris said. “I’m looking for good graces on the Pumpkin Festival so we can establish a date and see if that is something you guys are interested in entertaining.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Joshua Hendrick said the proposal wouldn’t need a motion since it would not be adding an additional budget item or increasing an existing item for the county’;s budget.l
“It would just be working collaboratively (with the town and county),” Parris said. “Their Chili Shootout did better this time than in the past, but they still struggle with participation with that, and we felt like with the demographic they are attracting for the Chili Cookout and the demographic we already attract for the Pumpkin Festival, if we merge those two events together and make it a one-time event that it would definitely help both events to have a different demographic.”
Supervisor Phil McCraw said he didn’t see why the county couldn’t take it under consideration. He said it would be something the county should discuss and think about. Parris responded that she hopes to have a date set by Jan. 1, 2017 so materials can be printed no later than February or March.
“The December meeting, if you could make a decision by then, would be fine,” she said. “It’s something we would definitely like to move forward with.”
McCraw said he would like to have some time to look over the proposal, talk to some farmers and Southwest Virginia Farmers Market Manager Kevin Semones about it before deciding what to do in December.
Parris said the Pumpkin Festival has historically been held the third weekend of October, but said she was okay with moving it to the first of October. She said an October Cruise-In would be an additional one for Hillsville as the town usually wraps up the series in September.
“It’s something they’ve always wanted to do. I think it would definitely help tourism revenue potential as far as attracting folks that might stay overnight in the hotels,” Parris said. “I think this is the easiest way to make it a Friday evening/Saturday event first to see how it goes before attempting a Friday, Saturday and Sunday event in the future.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN