Stanfield downsizes fall festival

Published 8:53 am Saturday, September 15, 2018

Rather than opening its fall festival to the public this year, Stanfield will keep its festivities restricted to local students only.

For the past eight years, the town has hosted the festival at Pete Henkel Park on a Saturday near Halloween (except last year when the event was canceled due to the threat of rain).

Along with a trunk-or-treat line up for kids, the festival has included free food for all attendees and activities like a hay ride, a pumpkin patch and cornhole.

“When it started there was nothing else like that on this end of the county,” said Stanfield Mayor Kevin Barbee. “It filled a need.”

Perhaps because of that, the festival grew quickly. While only a few hundred came their first year, about 3,000 came in 2016, staff estimate, which is getting to be more than the town can handle logistically.

Stanfield has only two staff members, officials said. And while volunteers do help with the event, the workload has grown beyond what even that group can handle.

“And a lot of (the Stanfield) kids don’t get to enjoy it, whether their parents can’t bring them or they do come and they’re in the crowd of so many that they can’t enjoy everything the way they should,” said Stanfield Town Administrator Bridgette Helms.

So in order to focus its limited resources back on the kids in Stanfield, the town council unanimously voted to host this year’s fall festival on a weekday afternoon at Stanfield Elementary School.

“The school has agreed to let us use the last part of the day,” Helms said. “We’ll feed them, have the hay ride, have games, the pumpkin patch.”

Only local students and their families will be allowed at the event.

However, while the decision was unanimous, it was not without debate. The sheer popularity of the festival is a good reason to continue hosting it, several councilors argued.

“Stanfield is becoming known for their fall festival,” said Councilor Rick Williams. “In other words people are identifying Stanfield with coming to get a hotdog and having a safe place for their children to trick-or-treat … which is great.”

In fact, when last year’s fall festival was cancelled due to the threat of rain, dozens — if not hundreds — of people called in protest, staff noted.

In light of all that interest, officials said they would be happy to see the festival continue in another capacity. If someone else — a group of volunteers, churches or community groups — wanted to organize it, they would continue to open the park for the event.

“We can pass along our contact info and help them get started,” Helms said.

However, even if the festival does not move forward this year, that does not mean there will not be any fall festivities for locals to go to.

Stanfield is no longer the only place to go for fall activities in western Stanly anymore, Barbee pointed out. Locust hosts a fall festival now. In fact, several regular vendors told staff they wouldn’t be able to make it to the Stanfield fall festival this year because they were already busy preparing for the one in Locust.

“This may keep us from being in competition with each other,” Barbee said.

In light of those thoughts and staff’s concerns about manpower, councilors unanimously agreed to change the Fall Festival into a school event this year.

“It’s an awesome thing to do,” Barbee said. “It lets kids know they’re important. Gives kids who don’t have parents at home or have parents that are working … a chance to experience the festival and maybe enjoy it more.”

Anyone who is interested in heading up the former fall festival activities in Stanfield can call Helms at 704-888-2386.