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Officials: Watermelon Festival a success

The Franklin County Watermelon Festival is known for many things, particularly the scorching-hot August temperatures that festivalgoers fight through each year while enjoying the food, crafts and entertainment.
But this year’s festival ushered in unseasonably cool weather, which event coordinators said attributed for the large crowds and pleasant atmosphere of the 33rd Annual Franklin County Watermelon Festival this past weekend.
Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cassie Medley said.
“The weather is one of those things you can never plan for, but we were blessed with some great weather this year,” Medley said.
“With the temperatures being so cool, I think it really helped bring in a lot of people who might have stayed away due to the heat.”
Medley said the turnout seemed to be even bigger than last year, a trend she hopes will continue in the coming years.
“The growing crowd on Friday night is what I really noticed this year,” Medley said.
“There just seems to be more and more people who show up on Friday evening. Trent Stephenson took me up in his bucket truck to get some pictures and I was just amazed at the sheer size of the crowd.
“We’re just pleased that so many people came put to enjoy the weekend’s festivities.”
Medley said this year’s festival saw several changes from years past, including serving watermelon on Friday evening.
“We had local grocery stores that donated watermelons to make that possible,” she said, “and it really seemed to go over well.”
The structure of the vendors was also different his year with event coordinators eliminating the line of vendors down the middle of Jackson Avenue in all but one block of the festival route.
“This was something that Jerry Sutton had actually suggested last year and we thought we would try it out,” Medley said.
“It seemed to work much better not having a continuous line of vendors down the middle making it more crowded and difficult to walk around.
“We also lengthened the area for vendors down to the front of First United Methodist Church and moved the rides and games to the block in front of the courthouse.
“I think both of these changes allowed for less congestion and a more enjoyable experience for people as they were shopping and buying food.”
In addition to receiving good feedback from many citizens, Medley said she also received good reports from the vendors, both the new and veteran vendors.
“We had a few small hiccups that you’ll have with any event of this size, but all in all, everything went very smoothly this weekend,” Medley said.
“Russellville Utilities built us some new electrical boxes that helped cut down on some of the issues we’ve had in the past in that area, which helped several vendors.
“All in all, the vendors were all very complimentary and seemed eager to return next year, which is what we always want to hear.
“The ones who were at this year’s festival provided us with a good variety of food, crafts and other items that the people really seemed to enjoy.”
A big draw for the crowds each year is always the entertainment line-up, which featured a mix of local and out-of-county entertainers.
“I got to talk with many of our entertainers when they finished performing and they all kept saying what a good time they had, which is a testament to the crowd we had watching them perform,” Medley said.
“We had a good crowd each night and we had great stage and sound crews who did a wonderful job as well.”
Medley expressed thanks to the many people who had a hand in making this year’s festival a success, including the Chamber board of directors, the mayor and city council, the police department and emergency medical personnel, the street department, and the members of Franklin County Junior Leadership, who helped throughout the day cutting watermelon and picking up trash.
“If I started trying to name each person or group that helped this year, I just know I wouldn’t be able to name them all because there were so many people who gave of their time to make this festival a success,” Medley said.
“Everyone worked together and the festival wouldn’t have been such a success without the hard work of so many people and volunteers.”
Medley said with all the people who visited the county this year and all the compliments she received, she felt the festival was successful in its main purpose: to show what a great place Franklin County is.
“I’m just glad everyone had a good time,” she said.
“Now I guess it’s time to start the planning all over again for next year’s festival.”
The watermelon-themed contests are a big part of the festival activities each year, and this year saw some returning champions as well as some new winners in the different categories.
The largest watermelon contest was won by a familiar name. Clifton Knight, of Decatur, who set a state record with a 228 pound melon in 2011, won a third straight title for the largest watermelon by growing a 185 pounder this year.
In the same category, Renee Knight took second place with a 165-pound watermelon and Ralph Windsor took third place with a 137 pound watermelon.
The winner of the most unusual melon was Mary Patterson.
For the second straight year, Rebecca Romans took home first place in the best dressed watermelon category with Jennifer Brewer coming in second and Elijah Mashburn coming in third.
The best tasting watermelon went to Chris Patterson. Micah Dalrymple took second in the category and Mary Patterson took third.
In the seed spitting contest, Jeffrey Romans won first place with a distance of 33 feet 5 inches. He was followed by Scott Weiss with a distance of 30 feet 4 inches and Norman McBroom with a distance of 28 feet 5 inches.