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updated: 10/3/2012 1:13 PM

St. Charles Scarecrow Fest a family favorite

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  • Spencer McCall, 4, of Campton Hills has a great seat while viewing entries in the whimsical category at the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest in Lincoln Park last year.

       Spencer McCall, 4, of Campton Hills has a great seat while viewing entries in the whimsical category at the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest in Lincoln Park last year.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • A scarecrow is made to walk the plank in the "Spirits of the Caribbean" mechanical entry at last year's St. Charles Scarecrow Fest in Lincoln Park.

       A scarecrow is made to walk the plank in the "Spirits of the Caribbean" mechanical entry at last year's St. Charles Scarecrow Fest in Lincoln Park.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The St. Charles Scarecrow Fest attracts thousands of visitors to the city.

       The St. Charles Scarecrow Fest attracts thousands of visitors to the city.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • A petting zoo is a big hit with young visitors to the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest.

       A petting zoo is a big hit with young visitors to the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest.
    RICK WEST | Staff Photographer

  • The Smurfs make an appearance in the children's category in last year's St. Charles Scarecrow Fest.

       The Smurfs make an appearance in the children's category in last year's St. Charles Scarecrow Fest.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
By Amy E. Williams
Daily Herald correspondent

It's become a tradition for many families and friends.

They travel from near and far for the annual St. Charles Scarecrow Fest each year.

This year's fest runs from Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5-7, in downtown St. Charles.

Last year, between 150,000 and 180,000 people attended, said Amy Egolf, executive director of the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Depending on the weather, organizers are hoping for the same or more this year.

Egolf said the out-of-towers who head into St. Charles on Columbus Day weekend every year for the fest are die-hards, and come in rain or shine.

It's those closer to home -- those living in the Fox Valley -- that come dependent on the weather.

Nancy Brooks, who lives in Elmwood Park, says she'll be there with her family and friends so matter what.

She said they've gathered together at the Scarecrow Fest for the past seven years in all kinds of weather.

"It's fun if it's cold, it's fun if it's warm. We just have a great time seeing the great decorations, eating and having fun together," Brooks said. "We always make a scarecrow, too. We've got to. It's just so much fun."

The festival has a make-your-own scarecrow area, as well as scarecrows on display as part of a contest that has locals dressing them up in funny and festive attire and scenes, and even animating them as part of a mechanical category.

There usually are more than 150 scarecrows as part of the contest, which allows visitors to vote for their favorites.

The festival also has traditional carnival rides, food and entertainment.

By the time the thousands of visitors have arrived, those working behind the scenes have spent many hours and many days making sure everything will be just right.

While it's on their minds throughout the year, and planning for various stages of the festival starts in earnest after the new year, it's the days and weeks leading up to the fest that require the most work.

Everyone has to make sure there is room for all of the people and the rides, scarecrows are displayed festively throughout the downtown area, and there are enough clothes on hand to dress up all of the make-your-own scarecrows.

"It's one of the fests' most popular attractions, and making certain there are enough clothes takes a full 12 months of collecting and sorting discarded clothes items," Egolf said. "We work with a local Boy Scout troop who handles that very important task as a fundraiser for their own activities."

The festival has been running in St. Charles for more than 25 years.

As it's grown, it's taken more work to put it on.

And two years ago, the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau hired an outside firm to help run it.

So now, in addition to their workers doing different tasks for the festival, they also have Special Events Management out of Chicago coordinating the festival.

Egolf said they hired the group because the festival wasn't breaking even, and hoped the outside firm would help bring up their revenues. And they also hired them because the number of visitors was getting so big, that they needed professional guidance.

But even though they have this firm guiding them, she said, it's still visitors bureau employees, as well as park district, public works, police and fire department workers, that help make sure everything is ready and running smoothly. Many scout groups and volunteers help too, she said.

"During the fest itself, it's all hands on deck by the bureau staff, two other Boy Scout troops providing volunteer support in addition to the one supporting make-you-own-scarecrow, community volunteers and support by the Downtown Partnership to man visitor information booths," she said.

This year, volunteers and workers will be adding even more fun, and some changes, to the festival.

They will be moving several categories of scarecrows to the riverwalk and First Street, she said.

They also have a new Lincoln Park layout to help with foot traffic that in the past has become too crowded.

They also will have continuous live free entertainment on Lincoln Park and the Riverwalk stages.

And they will have more kid-friend activities in the grassy area on First Street, including stagecoach rides and Euro-bungee jumping.

The fest runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday.

For information visit scarecrowfest.com.

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