Festivals brings pride and dollars to Miss-Lou

Published 8:57 pm Tuesday, October 9, 2007

NATCHEZ — In the Miss-Lou, fall means festivals. Lots of festivals.

Festivals occur nearly every weekend, from August’s Food and Wine Festival to September’s Bowie Festival to November’s Angels on the Bluff.

And to many involved, that means hard work, outside dollars and lots of fun.

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For many festivals, organization and planning begins weeks or months in advance.

The humane society starts planning for its September Bark in the Park fundraiser in July.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Natchez Humane Society President Linda Harper said.

“Since this is the 15th year, we know exactly what we’ve got to do,” she said. “We’re able to call on a lot of the same people who help us every year.”

Bark in the Park is a small festival when compared with the upcoming Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

The balloon race committee meets year-round to prepare for one of the area’s biggest annual event.

“It takes 25 meetings of the committee throughout the year to take care of all the logistics,” event coordinator Sally Durkin said.

Along with sponsors and good planning, dedicated participants help make the event successful.

“The main thing it takes to put these big events on is volunteers willing to give their time and energy to make them happen,” Durkin said.

Festivals play a big part in contributing to the local economy, she said.

“The more festivals you have, the more you become a planned destination for people,” Durkin said. “They gear their personal calendars around the events you host. There are some people who have standing hotel reservations for balloon race weekend for the next five years. These things really keep Natchez on the map.”

And keeping Natchez on visitors’ radar is important. The more people bring outside dollars into the Miss-Lou, the better the health of the local economy, Tourism Director Walter Tipton said.

“(Festivals) have huge economic impact,” Tipton said. “The state says on average, without lodging, most people spend $90 per day (when visiting).”

And although Natchez may not be the biggest city in the state, it holds its own when it comes to partying, he said.

“I believe we have as many events in Natchez as they have in Jackson, a town that’s many times larger than us,” Tipton said. “We definitely have our market share of events and festivals.”

Festivals are also a way of advertising and a friendly way of showing off, Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce Cliff Merritt said.

“It’s showcasing our area,” he said. “When visitors come, they see the good things we have to offer. When they go back home, they tell their friends to come. We depend on that outside money.”

And there’s another bonus, Merritt said — a boost to the local morale.

“When we as local citizens see people enjoying our area, sometimes it makes you appreciate the things you have,” he said. “We get used to things, like seeing the river, how pretty it is. It makes you appreciate things a little more.”