Almost tater time: Potato Festival starts today

Potato Fest Setup pt3
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Jerry Neisinger takes in the sights of Deggeler Attractions' midway as he strolls along a nearly deserted Elizabeth City waterfront, Thursday evening. The midway will be a lot more crowded — and a lot less quiet — this afternoon when the annual N.C. Potato Festival gets underway at 5 p.m. Neisinger said he's hoping the rain will hold off for the event. See Saturday's edition for full details on the festival's first day of events and activities.

Potato Fest Setup pt3

By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, May 18, 2018

The N.C. Potato Festival — Elizabeth City’s annual celebration of all things potato — gets underway in the city’s downtown and waterfront areas today at 5 p.m.

Deborah Malenfant, director of Elizabeth City Downtown Inc., said Thursday the three-day festival is shaping up as planned.    

"Knock on wood, everything is rolling on without a hitch," she said.

Deggeler Attractions, the Florida-based amusement company, will begin serving ride customers on the midway in front of Museum of the Albemarle and at Waterfront Park at 5 p.m. Besides the rides, food vendors will also be selling a variety of tasty treats.

Then at 5:45 p.m., local officials will hold what Malenfant called a “short and sweet” ceremony to officially open the festival. At 6 p.m., the TRADOC band will kick off the festival’s full schedule of musical entertainment with an hour-long performance. Capitol Records recording artist Devon Gilfillian is among the other music acts scheduled to perform tonight; a full slate of bands and entertainers will be performing on Saturday and Sunday.

Throughout the evening, festival-goers can also take camel and pony rides and get a close-up look at the Big Idaho Potato Truck, both of which will be stationed on the northside of East Ehringhaus Street.

After closing tonight at 11 p.m., the festival will get off to a quick start Saturday morning. 

Events begin at 8 a.m. with a 5K run and one mile walk at Charles Creek Park co-sponsored by the Coast Guard Enlisted Association. The run/walk is just one of this weekend’s events in which the Coast Guard will play a prominent role.

The Coast Guard cutter Flying Fish, which is based at Little Creek, Virginia, will be moored at the Pasquotank waterfront throughout the festival. Cmdr. Randy Meador, commanding officer at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City, said the Flying Fish will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

A helicopter aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City and Small Boat Station Elizabeth City are also scheduled to perform a search and rescue demonstration on the Pasquotank River at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Two of the festival’s most popular events — the Little Miss Tater Tot Contest and the National Potato Peeling Contest — are also scheduled to get underway Saturday at 10 a.m.

The Little Miss Tater Tot contest is usually held on the lawn at Mariners' Wharf Park. The National Potato Peeling Contest is traditionally held near the intersection of South Poindexter and Main streets.

At 11:30 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. on Saturday, pro wrestling fans will get a chance to see some of their favorite performers in a ring set up on Main Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Also on Main Street will be the Potato Festival Car Show, which will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  

Fans of old-timey tractors and farm equipment will also get a chance to step back in time through a display near the museum between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Another festival tradition, the cornhole tournament, gets underway Saturday at 1 p.m. at the corner of Main and Water streets. A tournament will also be held on Sunday at 1 p.m.

And while they last, festival-goers of course can pick up a container of free, hot french fries.

Festival-goers can also expect to see a full complement of craft vendors, local businesses and civic groups lining Water and Main streets both Saturday and Sunday. Cindy Williams, a member of N.C. Potato Festival Committee, said all 170 booth spots for the festival have been filled.

Although streets in the event area will be blocked off, motorists can continue use the public parking area across Church Street from The Daily Advance building, Williams said. The newspaper’s parking lot is being reserved for handicapped parking, she noted.

Motorists can also park along any of the side streets in the downtown or along Riverside Avenue. However, the shuttle service the festival has offered in recent years won’t be available at this year’s event.

"Our previous shuttle person had a prior commitment," Williams said.

Organizers also looked at ridership at last year’s festival and found only 30 people used the shuttle service, she said.

Christy Saunders, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management coordinator, said there will be a large law enforcement presence on hand for the festival. Officers from Elizabeth City State University will be helping out city police, as will officers from Edenton and Kill Devil Hills, she said.

She also said an incident plan is in place in case of an emergency or something out of the ordinary occurs.

"We've been doing that for years," she said.

There will also be roughly 120 volunteers helping make sure the festival runs smoothly.

The one wildcard continues to be the weather. 

Malenfant emphasized the festival will go on rain or shine. In case of rain, organizers will take measures to ensure attendees' safety, she said.

"But we are proceeding as if the weather gods are going to cooperate with us," she said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service’s Friday forecast for Elizabeth City called for an 80 percent chance of showers and possibly a thunderstorm before 8 p.m.

On Saturday, the forecast calls for cloudy skies and likely showers, with thunderstorms possible after 2 p.m. The chance of rain is 60 percent.

Saturday night and Sunday, the forecast is a bit better, with only a 30 percent chance of rain.