By Scott Bandle
Curt Wetzel had not lived in Jennings for a long time, so Saturday's Jenningsfest was the first time he was able to see the renovated Koeneman Park.
He was impressed with the lake, ball fields, walking trails, gazebo, playground and other attractions. He also was impressed with the Jenningsfest.
"It's a really nice event," said Wetzel, 60, who recently moved back to Jennings. "The food is good, and it's a nice family atmosphere. I think they should keep it going for next year."
His reaction is what the Recreation Department and City Council were hoping for from residents. They wanted Jenningsfest to be both a good time for residents and a showcase of Koeneman Park's recreation facilities.
Jenningsfest returned Saturday after a 10-year absence. Recreation officials were eager to see if the residents would respond.
"I didn't have any particular thought about what the attendance should be," Recreation Director Cindy Tharp said. "We estimate about 1,000 people arrived over the entire day. That's a good number. The (cool) weather and breeze also helped us."
Some City Council members were so impressed with the attendance that they felt the event should return in 2009.
"Everybody's having a good time, and we've gotten some good comments on it," Ward 1 Councilman and Park Committee Chairman Alan Stichnote said. "We're going to gear this up strictly for families."
The festival offered a variety of food booths, a beer garden, a deejay and music, inflatable rides and the Jennings Idol Contest, based the "American Idol" TV show.
Rhonda Stewart's four grandchildren especially loved the children's "railroad train" that traveled on the walking trails around the lake. The train engine was an electric cart that pulled miniature cars behind it. Festival organizers said it was one of the most popular rides of the day.
"They think the train is wonderful," said Stewart, 46. "They're really enjoying this. I'm having a lot of fun, too. I come up here a lot to walk on the trails, but it's great to see them use it for (the festival). I hope they bring it back next year."
The Recreation Department had a small budget of $10,000 for this year's event. Officials hope to make it bigger in 2009 and were already thinking of ideas on Saturday.
"We're going to make the banners in the park larger, so people can see them on the streets," Tharp said. "What was also good is that this gave a lot of teenagers a chance to volunteer. They're the ones running the kids' area with the rides."