Occoquan is adding a new town event next year that will focus on one of its most beloved charms – the Occoquan River – and replace its two-day Spring Arts and Crafts Show that began in the 1980s.
“We are creating something new, adding some new elements and hopefully tapping into a whole new market,” said Julie Little, the town’s events and community development director.
RiverFest will include a juried artisans’ market but will also focus on the Occoquan River, so there will be a vendors’ section dedicated to outdoor water sports such as scuba diving, sailing, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding.
This weekend’s spring craft show will be the last.
“We want to add that element to our current line-up of events in town. We want to explore the river. That’s what makes us unique – our artists and our river,” Little said.
RiverFest will also feature activities for all ages, live entertainment, food, a beer garden and river activities, maybe a sunset cruise, a fishing contest or a paddleboard contest.
“We are just trying a whole lot of new things and see what floats,” Little said.
Since River Mill Park opened at the end of Mill Street a few years ago, the town has increased its activities to include the recently-held Discover Occoquan as well as the Music & Movies on Mill summer series and WinterFest.
Last year, the Occoquan Town Council formed a committee to evaluate the craft shows, especially the spring show. There was concern about a declining number of visitors, vendors and the amount of staff work involved in the spring show, said Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta.
The committee found that while revenues to the town for the spring show had held, they were down from prior historic averages.
“Additionally, the committee felt that the town should consider new, varied events that would generate greater net revenue than the spring show and draw additional visitors to town, while also benefiting town businesses and enabling residents to enjoyably participate,” Porta said.
Little said in addition to adding a new event, it was looking for something that wouldn’t tax the residents and businesses as much as the craft shows do. They draw thousands of visitors for two days and close all of the town’s streets.
“It’s hard on residents. It hard on businesses when they don’t have access to their businesses,” Little said. “We thought we would change it up a little bit. We’ll still close down the town for one day but it will only be one day.”
A joint recommendation of the committee and town staff was to retain the fall craft show – which will celebrate its 50thanniversary this year – as is, but replace the spring show with one or more other events.
“Though the town council diligently evaluated the staff and committee recommendations and data, to some degree we all agreed to take a leap of faith in authorizing staff to move forward with a modified version of the committee recommendations,” Porta said.
“We all have concerns about the revenue-generating potential of these new events, the staff work involved, and the means by which people will access the events given Occoquan's parking challenges.
“Staff is confident, however, that they can meet these challenges and will be giving the town council regularly monthly updates on plans and milestones starting this June,” Porta said.
“I love that our town is on the water,” Little said. “We just need to figure out how to make that work for us.”
Reach Aileen Streng at email@example.com