By GARY POPP
Clarksville residents may finally have an annual community festival to call their own, following the success of this year’s ClarkFEST, which was held Monday in the lawn of Duke Energy at Eastern Boulevard and Triangle Drive.
The event included a large parade procession that began near East Brooks Avenue and made its way along Eastern Boulevard to Duke Energy.
Festival goers also had the chance to enjoy live music, food vendors, craft booths and a car show featuring nearly 70 vehicles.
The celebration was the inaugural ClarkFEST, which evolved from a parade and car show held in the former Value City parking lot last year.
Event coordinator Joyce Nokes Ribble said the event was a big success, but said it is too soon to say if area residents can expect a ClarkFEST each and every year.
“It has been great. Today has come together so well,” Ribble said, adding organizers were not sure what to expect, despite months of planning. “I’m just so happy how everything has turned out.”
Last year’s event, and this year’s ClarkFEST, were hosted by town officials and the Eastern Boulevard Business Association.
Ribble said the lawn of Duke Energy may appear to be an unlikely location for a festival, but for a community that has never had a town center, the location was carefully thought out. She said the “mid town” location of Duke Energy was the perfect spot between old Clarksville and the bustling Veterans Parkway area.
“That is why we are here — to bring people back to Eastern Boulevard,” she said. “We are trying to bring people from all different areas here, and I think we are doing that.”
Ribble said ClarkFEST spurs Clarksville pride and even “raises the profile of the community.”
Eastern Boulevard business owner and ClarkFEST organizer Kevin Harper said he hopes to expand on the celebration next year.
“Originally, the intent was to celebrate Eastern Boulevard and the renovation of Eastern Boulevard, and it has just grown from that,” Harper said. “Next year, we hope to run the parade down to Lewis and Clark Parkway.”
Ribble said the event was possible only because of generous support of area business that stepped up to sponsor the event.
ClarkFEST also gave state and local political candidates the chance to meet community members. Some candidates participated in the parade, and others set up booths for closer community interaction.
The Clarksville police and fire departments each had a large presence at ClarkFEST, including a group of emergency-response vehicles at the end of the parade.
“They are wonderful, the fire department, police department, the street department,” Ribble said. “They have been here all day managing traffic and making sure everything runs smoothly. I can’t say enough about how good they have all been.”
One of the nearly 40 booths at ClarkFEST was manned by Clarksville police officers.
Clarksville police Chief Mark Palmer said his department’s primary duty was to ensure safety during the event, but officers also took advantage of the opportunity to interact with community members.
“Communication has always been big for us, to reach out to people,” Palmer said, adding that officers were sharing with visitors to the department’s booths of free services offered to community members such as information on neighborhood watch programs, vacation check and the department’s Facebook page. “When people get to know us, I think it works out better for everybody.”
Jim Keith, executive director of the Clark-Floyd Convention and Tourism Bureau, said the parade had nearly 50 percent more entries than 2012 and that he could sense the excitement among all those involved.
“We are trying to make a good Labor Day celebration,” Keith said, adding that he hopes ClarkFEST will come back next year, “even bigger and better.”