Get ready for Parksville’s sand castle weekend

Parksville’s biggest summer event is gearing up to welcome over 100,000 visitors, starting this weekend, including sand sculptors from around the world.

Thousands of people come to Parksville each summer to see the sand castles.

Parksville’s biggest summer event is gearing up to welcome over 100,000 visitors, starting this weekend, including sand sculptors from around the world.

Trish Smith, event manager for the 12th annual Quality Foods Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition said last week they were in the “last minute panic stage,” of preparations, but they are getting a lot of support and things are falling into place.

While a lot of work goes into an event of that size, Smith said they always get a lot of community support and this year the response was tremendous — from sponsors, volunteers and non-profit groups who help run the site over the extended four week viewing period.

Smith said the trouble this year was narrowing down the 30 non-profit organizations that applied for 12 spots running the gate and sharing in the donations. She said it was nice to be able to select from so many worthy groups and chose based on who they know already gives back a lot to the community.

Last year participating groups shared $42,000 in donations, making it the biggest annual source of income for some.

The special sand comes in Thursday for the big “pound up” on Friday. The main competition takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the site in Parksville Community Park and the gated exhibition remains open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily until August 14.

“We are getting some of the biggest sculptors in the world again as the event continues to build a name for itself,” Smith said, adding they like to give them creative freedom.

There is no theme this year, giving the world class artists the space to let their creativity flow. They have had themes in the past to coincide with other big events, like the Winter Olympics, she said, but otherwise like to leave it open.

This year’s competitors come from three provinces, two U.S. states and five countries including Mexico, The Netherlands and Latvia.

As the only Canadian qualifier for the world championship in Fort Myers Beach, Florida in November, the sculptors will hope to be in top form.

The cash prizes this year total $32,000, including a top prize of $8,000 to the winning team and $4,100 to the top individual. Each of the three teams win a prize as do the top five soloists.

This year organizers are focusing on creating more of an ongoing festive atmosphere throughout the month.

“When we talk to people we hear we need more things for the locals to do,” said Smith, admitting once locals saw the sculptures there was little reason for them to go back in past years.

“This summer we’d like to grow the event by offering more of a festive atmosphere,” Smith said. “We are planning to organize a massive family-oriented entertainment weekend, with a large stage set up on the kite field, and we are also looking to showcase smaller local groups and soloists in the gazebo by the water for the rest of the summer.”

There are still the existing complimentary events like the Kite Festival this weekend (July 16 and 17, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.), the big Oceanside Overdrive car show (July 31, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), the Quality Foods Fireworks (Aug. 13) and Kidfest on the closing weekend (Aug. 14, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.).

They also encourage people to check out activities like Tuesday and Wednesday evening beach volleyball and the Summer By the Sea Street Market on Craig Street Tuesday evenings and take full advantage of the park from the Lions’ Ventureland children’s water park, sports facilities and the famous beach itself.

To all that, organizers are branching out and adding more of their own events starting with the Artisan at the Beach market on Sunday, July 24, a Big Splash Entertainment Weekend Aug. 5 to 7 and ongoing busking.

While the entertainment weekend is all booked, they are still accepting artisans for the market, which is filling fast, and a wide variety of musicians and street performers to busk in the gazebo on the beach, beside the sculptures. To apply as a busker or artisan contact her at 250-951-2678.

Attendance at the site has increased steadily over its 11 year history, climbing to 99,000 last year, so Smith said they are optimistic they will break the 100,000 milestone this year, pushing the cumulative total over three quarters of a million since 1999.

The 2011 sand carving and competition takes place this weekend and the gated exhibition remains open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily until August 14. Most activities are free but they ask for a suggested donation of $2.50 per person to help keep the event running.

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