A group of visitors looks over the sand sculpture ‘Hey Jacques’ by Bruce Waugh during the Quality Foods Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition at Parksville’s Community Park. The exhibition continues through Aug. 20. — J.R. Rardon photo

Parksville Beachfest attendance dips, but still strong

Donations remain strong as turnout trails 2016’s record pace

Attendance at Parksville’s annual Beach Festival is down to date from last year’s record turnout, but donations remain strong, the president of the festival’s organizing society said this week.

“We’re down in gate attendance from last year by about eight per cent,” Beach Festival Society president Cheryl Dill said. “But last year was a really strong year. I looked back at 2015, and we’re still up over 25 per cent for that year.

“Last year was so strong that at this point we’re looking at it as, was it a blip? Was it a one-time thing?”

There had been some speculation among the society that the smoky air resulting from the fires in B.C.’s Interior may have contributed toward lower turnout. But Dill said the recently completed B.C. Day long weekend, which had comparable levels of smoke to the previous week, actually outdrew the same period in 2016.

Attendance for Aug. 5-7 was about 13,000, compared to 9,500 for the long weekend a year ago, she said.

“What it’s attributed to we really don’t know,” Dill said of the overall reduction in Beach Festival visitors. “Some have been guessing the smoke and the weather has maybe impacted people travelling in B.C. or into B.C., but that’s difficult to say for sure because we are having a strong year.

“People are still wanting to get out and about and see the (sculpting) exhibition with their families.”

The five-week Beach Festival, which began with the Quality Foods Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition, continues at Parksville’s Community Park through Aug. 20.

With two strong weekends, Dill said, the Beach Fesitival could still approach last year’s record attendance.

Entertainment continues this Friday and Saturday with free concerts at the park, and the final weekend promises to be a crowd-pleaser with the annual Quality Foods Festival of Lights fireworks show the night of Saturday, Aug. 19, followed by KidFest in the park Sunday, Aug. 20.

For the first time this year, the sculptures in the exhibition will be lit for night viewing following the Aug. 19 fireworks, which could help push the final attendance totals higher.

“Overall, we’re not concerned,” said Dill. “The donations at the gate have been very strong. We’re always wanting to give back to the community, so when attendance is low we’re concerned about what we’ll have available to give.

“But our donations are comparable to last year’s, so that’s great.”