Heartland Festival in the Park crowd exceeds 15,000

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More than 12,000 attended Saturday

By Marianne Hale

After a few years of lower attendance, a change of management and scheduling alterations, could the Heartland Festival be hitting a new stride?

Elizabethtown Events Coordinator Sarah Vaughn believes so, and she received positive feedback from visitors this weekend who felt the diverse offerings resulted in rejuvenation for the longstanding festival at Freeman Lake Park.

“Everything was positive, and a number of people feel like the festival is back,” she said, noting many visitors were happy to see carnival rides return.

Vaughn said more than 3,000 visitors were lured to the first night of the festival Friday for rides, a movie at the bandstand and a balloon glow while more than 12,000 attended Saturday.

“I do not have numbers for the parade but have been informed from parade officials that it was the most attended parade since early 2000’s,” Vaughn said in an email.

Estimates are based on an average of three people per car, Vaughn said. Instead of charging general admission, the city recouped some of its costs to host the festival – estimated at around $75,000 — through parking fees. Walk-ins were charged per person, Vaughn said.

Several thousand people attended the Tracy Lawrence concert Saturday night, but Vaughn said there was “no way of knowing” how many attended because the concert was free save for a limited number of VIP passes sold.

“Our goal was about 15,000 over the event weekend, and we definitely (hit) that,” she said.

Vaughn said the number actually was a conservative estimate because the city distributed several passes to vendors and sponsors that were unaccounted for in the official estimate.

“At the end of the day, the exact number would be impossible,” she said.

Some concertgoers said they liked having a free concert attached to the festival, but Vaughn said organizers have not discussed if the city will follow this format in the future. When asked if tweaks are needed, Vaughn said “there always is” but did not elaborate.

Those who attended the festival complimented the mix of entertainment options, which included a reptile zoo, mountain-bike stunt show, fireworks, a live music stage, an ice cream eating contest and United Way’s Got Talent Contest among others. The downtown parade also proved popular, and Mayor Edna Berger said she knew this year was special when she saw crowds of people packed in tight on both sides of West Dixie Avenue. She rode in the parade with members of Elizabethtown City Council.

“I looked around at the guys and said, ‘This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen in years and years and years,’” Berger said.

Berger said she met people from Louisville and Bowling Green who drove to Elizabethtown for the festival or concert who left impressed and noticed everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves during the day. The weather helped as blue skies dominated without oppressive humidity.

“Everything about Saturday felt good, from the weather to people’s moods,” Berger said. “It was just a great day for a festival.”

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.