Chicken Festival is history; Riverfest to take its place

By Lynn R. Parks

In the wake of the cancellation of the Chicken Festival, Riverfest, an annual celebration of the Nanticoke River sponsored by the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce and the City of Seaford, and featuring the Nanticoke River Float-In, has been moved up six weeks. Originally scheduled for Aug. 3, it will now be held June 21 and 22, the original dates of the Chicken Festival. Gone will be the giant frying pan, a signature part of the Chicken Festival, as well as Chicken Capers. In addition, the parade that was planned as part of the festival will probably be scratched. But, said Shannon Sapna, city economic developer, the event will include several features of the eight-year-old Riverfest, including the float-in, the Miss and Little Miss Riverfest pageants, the Duck Dash and a fishing tournament. Added to the plans just this week is a grand opening celebration at the Blades Marina. “We will have a great event,” said Seaford Mayor Dan Short. “We have the opportunity to salvage this event and not to waste all the energy that has gone into its planning.” Last week, Delmarva Poultry Industry, the sponsor of the annual Chicken Festival, canceled this year’s festival due to concerns over the spread of avian flu. While not dangerous to humans, the flu can destroy whole flocks of birds. According to DPI, the most recent outbreak of the flu has devastated much of the turkey and chicken industry in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. More than 3 million birds in Virginia have been affected since mid-March and cases have been discovered in West Virginia and North Car- olina. “This wasn’t a happy decision for any of us, but it was the right thing to do,” said Connie Parvis, director of education and consumer information with DPI. “With the industry such a large employer on the peninsula, it would not have been responsible to do anything other than cancel the festival.” The 54-year-old Chicken Festival has only been canceled one other time, in 1984 when it was scheduled to be held in Salisbury, Md. The festival schedule, which is made up several years in advance, was rearranged so that Salisbury could hold the festival the next year. But Seaford’s chamber of commerce opted not to go that route. According to Paula Gunson, chamber director, Dover, Salisbury, Millsboro and Snow Hill, Md., scheduled to hold the next four festivals, have already signed contracts for entertainment. “Rather than make all of them switch, we decided to salvage what we could and switch Riverfest,” she said. Gunson added that she was disappointed that the Chicken Festival, which she has been working on for two years, was canceled. “But with a festival that was going to attract 30,000 people, if something had happened to the peninsula’s poultry flock, it would have put Seaford in a very bad light,” she added. Sapna said that producing the Chicken Festival was expected to cost about $30,000, much of which would have come from sponsors and from the rental of vendor space. Putting together the Riverfest will cost about $20,000, she said, much of which will come from vendors.

She added that the city will submit requests for reimbursement from DPI for expenses for events that had to be canceled. For example, if the parade is canceled the city may lost money it has already paid to arrange for participants. Sapna did not know how much of that request DPI will honor. In addition, the city installed temporary electric lines to the field next to the Boys and Girls Club, in anticipation of the Chicken Festival. Those lines will have to be dismantled. City manager Dolores Slatcher said that the city will request reimbursement from DPI for the cost of dismantling the lines. She was unable to say on Tuesday what that cost will be. On Tuesday morning, representatives of the chamber, the city and area civic groups met to discuss Riverfest and the form it will take. Afterward, Sapna said that organizers were “able to salvage about 95 percent” of the activities planned for the Chicken Festival, including almost all of the entertainment. Civic groups are in the process of rearranging plans to turn Chicken Festival fund-raisers into Riverfest fund-raisers. The Lions Club, which had planned to man the giant frying pan, is looking for another way to serve food, Sapna said. Plans for the trade show, to be sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and held at the Boys and Girls Club, are not complete. Members of the club were to visit the Seaford fire hall yesterday to determine if the trade show can be held in the hall’s downstairs. The Chicken Festival was expected to attract about 30,000 people. Last year’s Riverfest drew about 10,000 people. Sapna said that the city hopes that, with sufficient publicity, this year’s Riverfest will draw close to what the Chicken Festival would have drawn. “This ia a great opportunity to draw the public’s attention to Riverfest,” added Short. “We will boost the enthusiasm and attractiveness of the event. This is an opportunity to boost our numbers at Riverfest.” Sapna said that she expects that civic groups that had hoped to make money off the Chicken Festival will be just as happy being part of the Riverfest. “I am optimistic they well do as well and that the community will support them,” she said.

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