GALLIPOLIS — As Independence Day draws closer, families are making plans, gathering supplies for annual cookouts, firework displays and organizing the ever-anticipated crowded backseat while traveling.
With all the bustle, what happens behind the scenes at events like Gallipolis River Recreation Festival?
The Tribune spent a little bit of Wednesday afternoon with event organizer and Gallia County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Miller to get an understanding of just what goes into planning the two-day event.
“The chamber has not always handled (River Rec), but it has for many years,” Miller said. “Honestly, we start organizing the last day of (the previous) River Rec. It’s a year-long process. It’s a lot of preliminary planning and following up on any issues that we saw from the year for the following year.”
Miller did not give an exact figure but did say that it takes thousands of dollars for an event like the July 4th celebration to occur. Fireworks are always the biggest cost. She said that 25 members of the River Rec Planning Committee gather throughout the year to get the next year’s event thought out. Around January is when the committee starts putting reviewed ideas and changes into motion.
As the budget can change yearly, the committee has to adapt as well. The biggest challenges are tackled first such as the fireworks display and concessions. As May and June approach, the planning committee puts on the finishing touches and organizes the small details. It starts meeting every other week in spring or once a week as opposed to gathering maybe once a month or every two months over the fall season.
Miller said that this year was going to be somewhat of a trial year as public feedback suggested the festival needed a more regular schedule. Planning committee members intend to have the festival on July 3 and 4 no matter where it falls in the week in hopes of making scheduling events, food, volunteers and entertainment easier for future years. The annual parade and fireworks display are anticipated to always be held on July 4. Organizations in the past had said it was difficult scheduling volunteers when the festival schedule changed based upon where it fell in the calendar year.
“We took into consideration that the Fourth was the whole reason that this festival was initiated,” Miller said. “We decided to go with keeping it revolving around the Fourth and not the weekend. Our choices were either the weekend of the Fourth or the Fourth (exactly). (It’s) not to say that we won’t look at other options for times of certain activities. We went with the decision to always make it the third and fourth every year from this point on, no matter what day they fall on.”
Feedback from the community, according to Miller, said it desired the festival to have a “hometown” feel and the planning committee is taking steps to make sure that happens. Miller said it takes between 50 and 70 volunteers to make that happen.
“I can’t stress how important our volunteers are,” Miller said. “Without them, River Rec would not happen. There is just too much to do. The reason it happens is because of the group of people who volunteer.”
Miller said some of the volunteers are chamber members, others are members of the community seeking to aid with the annual celebration. Hundreds of hours go into planning the festival every year. Each planning committee member has a chief part of the festival they oversee. Some focus more on children’s activities while others oversee the resources and types of equipment musical acts wish to bring to use on stage.
Given many of the events inside of the festival are recurring attractions, Miller said volunteers will be gauging what works and what does not. The hope is to eventually be able to schedule the same events, at the same time, year after year, keeping a mechanical smoothness to the festival.
Miller said entertainment and musical performers have often approached the chamber about scheduling appearances at the festival. The chamber and planning committee has reached out to performers in the past but finding musical entertainment has not been a consistently major challenge for the festival.
“We don’t charge admission (to the festival),” Miller said. “That’s why we have things like inflatables and we charge the vendors (to set up shop) and have sponsors.”
Miller told the Tribune the festival is the chamber’s largest event of the year. The vast majority of funding goes back to making certain the following year’s festival can he conducted again. Ultimately, according to Miller, the event is about bringing people to Gallipolis, enjoying a sense of community, celebrating America’s birthday and exposing area businesses to potential customers.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.