New-look Dover Days puts more emphasis on The Green

Revolutionary War soldier re-enactors march in the Dover Days parade last year. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — An expanded Dover Days awaits festivalgoers this year as the 85th edition of the downstate favorite is set for Saturday.

This year’s event brings a new footprint to put a bigger emphasis on downtown Dover businesses and to open more parking. The new layout will move most of the festival’s vendors and entertainers to State Street, The Green and then continue down to Legislative Mall.

Executive director of Kent County Tourism, producer of Dover Days, Wendie Vestfall said the new look to the festival has

Gov. John Carney waves during the Dover Days Parade last year. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

been met with excitement.

“The response has been positive, especially from the downtown business community. They are happy that we have incorporated them into the festival, which is why we did it,” she said.

“As far as the general public, we haven’t heard too much. I think they just have to come down and experience it.”

She said the area around State and Loockerman streets should see more activity than in years past. The fourth annual History, Heritage and Hops craft brew festival starts at 3 p.m. after Dover Days comes to a close.

“We devised it to run together. When the activities around State Street end, it picks up on Loockerman with the beer festival,” she said.

Festivalgoers should also find it easier to park this year with the back end of Legislative Mall and areas around Water Street more accessible.

While organizers wanted to move the festival west a bit, they found that they still needed room for features such as the entertainment stage, food court, car show, moon bounce and new this year, a hot air balloon. So those are still on Legislative Mall, the site of most of the main action in the past.

“We actually made the festival bigger by accident,” Ms. Vestfall. “Taking it down past Federal Street extended the footprint.”

And about that hot air balloon. Attendees can go skyward for $5 per person from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The hot-air balloon is tethered and will go 150 feet (weather permitting) into the air, giving riders a birds-eye view of downtown Dover.

“It’s going to make an awesome selfie,” Ms. Vestfall said.

One other byproduct of the different landscape of Dover Days is a slight change to this year’s parade route. The parade will remain on State Street but will turn left onto Loockerman Street disperse onto Federal Street. In the past, the parade has gone around The Green.

Rob Healy, 45, of Dover, grabbed a ribbon when the fourth-graders of North Dover Elementary School came up one person short for the traditional maypole dance on the Green. He teaches physical education at the school. (Delaware State News/K.I. White)

Children dance around the maypole at a previous Dover Days Festival.

This opens up the area around The Green for more foot traffic and other events, including the traditional maypole dancing at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The parade, which starts at 9:30 a.m., is still shaping up to be the largest of its kind in Delaware. Ms. Vestfall said it’s her favorite part of the day.

“We were the last float in last year’s parade and the perspective you get from all of the people is just amazing. It’s incredible to see everyone cheering on the local schools and the floats and the politicians. The carriages with the governor and mayor are so cool,” she said of the Dover pride that the day exudes.

To continue with the NASCAR connection, former driver and broadcaster Kenny Wallace will be in this year’s parade and will take part in festival activities throughout the day.

The Maypole team from Major George S. Welch Elementary School march in the the Dover Days parade last year. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Another twist to Dover Days this year is that it coincides with NASCAR weekend at Dover International Speedway, bringing more people to the area, hopefully to enjoy Dover Days.

“It’s been a great thing for Dover in general,” Ms. Vestfall said.

“It creates its own marketing opportunities for this being possibly the biggest weekend in Dover. We’ve received calls from people who are going to be camping in their RVs, asking about Dover Days and what’s going on.

“We’re expecting to see people coming over from the campgrounds who have never been to downtown Dover because there really hasn’t been much going on or they have just never had a reason to check things out.”

Kent County Tourism’s slogan for the weekend is “From horses to horsepower,” incorporating the history of Dover Days with the excitement over at the track.

“The speedway has been a really great partner for us. We’ve been able to collaborate with a lot of our marketing materials and posters. It’s been a nice partnership,” Ms. Vestfall said.

The two events going on simultaneously has not provided as much of a problem as Ms. Vestfall originally feared.

“We get a lot of help from Dover Air Force Base, whose members also volunteer out at the track. I also thought maybe schools may be affected by it but everyone has seemed to be able to juggle everything quite well,” she said.

For the full schedule, visit www.visitdelawarevillages.com or see the Delaware State News program.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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