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GCS RiverFest 2023: This year’s event sets records for attendance, fun, remembrance

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 6/1/23

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The parking lot at Wells Fargo Bank was empty shortly after noon in the early hours of Green Cove Springs’ RiverFest. Two hours later, were 25 cars there on a day when the …

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GCS RiverFest 2023: This year’s event sets records for attendance, fun, remembrance


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The parking lot at Wells Fargo Bank was empty shortly after noon in the early hours of Green Cove Springs’ RiverFest. Two hours later, were 25 cars there on a day when the bank was closed. Two hours after that, it was packed.

Although it was nearly a half-mile away from the park, there weren’t any open spaces for the rest of the day.

In what many believe was the most successful Memorial Day gathering at Spring Park, food truck operators, vendors and residents not only ushered in the summer season, they delivered a profound remembrance for the holiday – Memorial Day.

“This year’s RiverFest was a resounding success,” said city manager executive assistant Kim Thomas. “We believe we had a record crowd. And there were no problems – no missing children, nobody falling out, nobody acting up.”

Thomas, who made most of the festival arrangements, said many food trucks reported sellouts. So did a lot of the vendors. By the time fireworks lit the sky above the St. Johns River, the city had estimated the crowd to be as many as 8,500.

“It warmed my heart to see so many people having fun,” Thomas said.

The party started at 10 a.m. on Monday, but the first 90 minutes were reserved for a ceremony honoring the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice defending the nation. In addition to a flyover by Dreamland Squadron, the ringing of the veterans’ bell, the laying of a wreath at the veteran’s memorial and the playing of TAPS, veterans were encouraged to introduce themselves and describe their service. It’s one of the unique aspects of the annual event.

By noon, there were long lines at the more than 100 food trucks and vendor booths. Thomas said one face-painting vendor said she didn’t get a break for 10 hours.

The daylong remembrance didn’t end until headlining BedRock Band finished playing and the massive fireworks show.

With so many people in such a scenic yet small space, Police Chief E.J. Guzzman said his agency didn’t respond to any problems.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Bean delivered the keynote address during the veteran’s portion. Still, he elected to remain in the park for several hours, meeting residents at the Clay County Republican Party booth.

In addition to a full slate of music at the gazebo, RiverFest included a watermelon-eating contest, a rubber duck race, a Kids’ Zone and the official opening of the city’s swimming pool.

“Everyone had a great time,” Thomas said. “We had a lot more people early in the day when it was hotter, and the crowd only got bigger. The fireworks always are the highlight of the day, but this year probably was the biggest yet.”