Published 8:48 am Thursday, February 15, 2007

By Staff
David Gossett, show chairman of the East Carolina Wildfowl Guild’s annual East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and N.C. Decoy Carving Championships, said this past weekend’s festival overwhelmed him and guild members who run the events associated with the festival.
That’s a good problem to have, Gossett acknowledged.
Indeed, it is a good problem to have. It means the festival continues to grow, attracting more and more visitors to Washington each year. Visitors could be found all over downtown and at the Red Men’s Lodge on East Third Street, where the carving competitions were held.
Most downtown restaurants were full. Many downtown shops reported increased traffic and sales.
Out-of-town visitors to the festival praised the use of vans, provided by Beaufort Area Transit System, to shuttle them to festival sites and downtown locations. On many trips, the 12-passenger vans were full. Visitors waited for the next van, with some waiting for subsequent vans to pick them up and transport them to their destinations.
If last year’s festival, with weather that didn’t hold a candle to the weather during this year’s festival, had an economic impact of $162,240 on the local economy, how much better will that impact be this year? That expenditure generated $11,356 in total sales-tax revenue, with the state’s share coming in at $7,300 and the county’s totaling $4,056, according to a study conducted for the Washington Tourism Development Authority. Most of the festival’s visitors were from outside Beaufort County, the report said.
It’s understandable why Gossett is worried about being overwhelmed. He and the guild want the festival and its activities to run as smoothly as possible so visitors have wonderful experiences and want to return. The very problem of having too many visitors (if that’s a problem) indicates Gossett and the guild are doing an excellent job when it comes to putting on the festival. To go along with all those visitors, perhaps the guild needs to bring in some outside help to assist with future festivals.
Perhaps the guild and a civic organization could join forces, with the civic organization providing manpower during the festival in exchange for a free booth at the festival. From that booth, the civic organization could explain its programs, recruit new members and enhance its presence in the community. The guild and the Boy Scouts already have such an arrangement, but as the festival grows, other similar arrangements may be needed to ensure the festival runs at maximum efficiency.
Tom High, a first-time exhibitor at the festival this year, was impressed with the quality of the festival. High, a renowned wildlife artist from Colorado, said the festival is an excellent forum for displaying some of the best wildlife art he’s ever seen.
Restaurants with customers waiting to be seated, shuttle vans filled with visitors, out-of-town tourists blocking sidewalks as they peer into windows of downtown shops. Those are the kinds of problems the city should face. For if those kinds of problems exist, that means people are spending money in the city.
With that extra revenue coming in, perhaps the city can use it to keep from increasing fees for services or raising taxes.
Although it may result in more work for its members, a 2008 festival that overwhelms the guild would be good news for the city.
It’s a good thing to have tourists flocking to Washington, not to mention the wildlife art and decoy carvings.
Washington could use more overwhelming.