The 2018 Strawberry Festival drew between 9,000 and 10,000 people to Cheadle Lake Park on Saturday, June 2, according to estimates provided by Jami Cate, the chairperson of the board of directors.
“That’s a huge increase from years previously,” Cate said. “More people than we anticipated.”
This is a good sign for the health of the event, which just marked its 109th year. But in some ways, the festival is experiencing growing pains. The large crowds at Cheadle Lake overwhelmed the volunteer parking crew.
“There were longer wait times for people to get parked and traffic backed up on the highway,” Cate said.
Allocating more volunteers to parking duty next year should help shorten wait times. But there is no magical solution to traffic problems when the parking lot is full, as it was on Saturday for the first time ever during the festival, Cate said.
Mayor Paul Aziz looked on the bright side of the problem.
“It’s exciting there’s that many people that want to go out there,” he said. “Jami’s leadership, the board, they did a great job. The volunteers are amazing.”
In particular, Aziz was happy to see the improvements made in accessibility at Cheadle Lake. Several of the park’s paths have been paved, making them usable by those — including Mayor Aziz — who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.
Mats had been ordered to further improve access, but they did not arrive in time for this festival. They will be put to use for next year’s event. Despite this disappointment, the paved paths and handicapped accessible port-a-potties which were provided made the festival an option for many people who had been unable to attend in the past.
“This is the first time I was able to go the festival,” Aziz said. “I got to eat some strawberry shortcake for the first time.”
The City of Lebanon acquired the Cheadle Lake property in the spring of 2017 from the Lebanon Community Foundation. That nonprofit group had purchased and developed the property to serve as the home for the festival.
Public ownership of the park made it imperative that improvements in accessibility be made quickly in order to bring the site up to code. City ownership also brought more resources to accomplish that work.
Access wasn’t the only change to this year’s event. The festival hosted an All Heroes Day, which Cate felt was a great success. The program included patriotic music and a fireworks show and was dedicated to honoring veterans, those who are currently serving in the military, and those who work as first responders.
This fit in very well with this year’s festival theme of “Strawberries to the Rescue.” No matter the theme of next year’s event, All Heroes Day will be part of the schedule, Cate said.
“We loved being able to recognize our heroes and first-responders,” Cate said. “We will continue with that.”
The Strawberry Festival board also increased the size of the budget for the fireworks show on Saturday night. This is also expected to continue to be a part of the festival’s future plans.
“That’s our goal is to make things better and cooler, and keep people coming out,” Cate said.