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Celebrating Kent

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Spring brings on three seasons of outdoor fun and festivals, many of which emphasize the enduring small-town quality of life in Kent County. Here’s a smattering of celebrations that will get your motor running, prepare your ears for great live music, and make your mouth water for chicken, barbecue, funnel cakes—maybe even an exotic peach dessert.

The Bug and Bud Festival in Milford pays tribute to the state insect. Photograph by Robin CoventryBug and Bud Festival | April 24, Milford

The one-day festival celebrates Arbor Day and the state insect, the ladybug. The festival continues to draw enthusiastic crowds from the nearby area, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and far-flung states such as Massachusetts and California—thanks to being listed by Travelocity as an Editor’s Choice. Festivities include a costume parade, live concerts and river activities, such as paddleboating and steamboat rides, says Beth Durham of Downtown Milford Inc.

The increasingly popular event now boasts more than 100 arts and crafts vendors that complement the distribution of 2,000 seedling trees in honor of Arbor Day. This year’s festival will be the seventh annual event. Proceeds benefit the town’s Main Street program.
 

Dover Days celebrates the city’s heritage as the First State’s capital.Dover Days | April 30-May 2, Dover

In its 77th year of celebrating Dover’s heritage as the capital of the First State, Dover Days is the longest-running festival in the city. Drawing up to 15,000 visitors a year, Dover Days is a celebration of history, heritage and home. This year’s celebration commences with a car show and concert on April 30. New this year is a countywide tour of 40 historic homes in Kent.

“Dover Days began as a house and garden tour,” says Robin Coventry of Kent County Tourism. “This year will be the first for the expanded house tour.”

Another first will be a laser light show. Traditional events include a parade and a Maypole dance performed by local school children, as well as an artisan exhibit that includes Colonial-era crafts such as spinning, weaving and blacksmithing.

“There’ll be a pet parade complete with costumes and replica encampments of historical periods including the Renaissance, Native American, Civil War and World War II eras,” Coventry says.

First State Heritage Park also plans shows for this year’s festival.
 

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NASCAR Weekend—Spring/Fall | May 14-16, September 24-26

Dover International Speedway’s Gary Camp estimates that 250,000 people descend on the city for each of its two major race weekends, one in the spring and one in fall. “With many arriving early, we’ve built up Victory Plaza and the Fan Zone as fan attractions,” says Camp. “Fans can enjoy as many as 20 events, including practice sessions and qualifying runs on the track, beginning on Friday and extending through race day.” Up to 3,000 staff are hired to handle crowds. The fall weekend is now the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup series. Jimmie Johnson’s victory in Dover last year launched him to the Cup championship. Book your accommodations early. Hotels sell out far and wide.
 

Delmarva Chicken Festival | June 18-19

For the first time in more than seven years, Delaware and Dover is the site for this popular event, sponsored by the Delmarva Poultry Industry. “The Chicken Festival is held annually on a rotating basis among Virginia, Maryland and Delaware,” says Nancy Wagner, chair of the 2010 event. “The Delaware State University campus will host this year’s celebration, so this is an opportunity to show off the growth and the changes in our campus over the last few years.” The event usually draws about 30,000 visitors. They can feast on a variety of chicken products, some cooked in the world’s largest frying pan. There will be an exhibit about the history of the chicken industry, a carnival, activities for children, a show of antique tractors and live entertainment. “The only meat we’ll be serving, of course, is chicken,” says Wagner.
 

The Sankofa dancers are always a hit at Dover’s African American Festival. Photograph by Robin CoventryAfrican American Festival | June 26, Dover

What began as a way to draw attention to the arts of Dover’s African-American community has grown from 200 visitors during its 1991 inaugural event to more than 20,000 today. “We outgrew our Mirror Lake site by the third year of the festival,” says co-founder Reuben Salters, “and we moved to the current site on Legislative Mall, where we’ve been since then.”

Some 150 food and merchandise vendors set up shop, with exhibits such as open marketplaces arranged in the style of an African village. African drum and dance performances by the Sankofa African Dance Company, founded in 1994 by Salters, is part of the entertainment. And the stage has grown to include such classic musical acts as The Platters and The Coasters. A grand procession of federal, state and local political leaders kicks off the event.

Proceeds fund the building of an Inner City Cultural Center, designed to “teach kids about African American culture,” Salters says. “I think the reason this festival has become so successful is because there is a fundamental human need for art and culture. Art lifts the human spirit.”
 

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The little ones love the barn areas at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. Photograph by Robin CoventryDelaware State Fair | July 22-31, Harrington

The fair celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2009, so residents should continue to be proud to sing, “Our state fair is a great state fair.” “We have visitors from more than 33 states, and about one-third of all Delawareans visit throughout its run,” says Dan Aguilar, the fair’s assistant general manager.

The event’s growth is attributable to a broad approach to seeking new talent, attractions and events. The fair hopes to add additional circus acts, a hypnotist, new exotic animals and an expanded petting zoo to its midway in 2010.

“The fair is best known, of course, for its grandstand shows and its livestock shows,” Aguilar says. Though the fair is somewhat partial to the country category for musical entertainment, it has featured doo-wop groups, hip hop artists, classic rockers and superstars such as Kelly Carkson.

Yet no matter how it grows, the fair will remain true to its family-oriented roots and traditions. “My own kids enjoy the food, rides and animals the best,” Aguilar says. “Overall, the state fair is the biggest draw of any event in Delaware.” It generates $1 million a year to develop the agricultural industry.
 

Wyoming Peach Festival | August 7, Wyoming

One of the few places where the pits are really a peachy place to be is Wyoming, home of the annual Peach Festival, now in its 21st year. A sister celebration with Fifer Orchards’ annual Customer Appreciation Day, the event draws more than 7,000 people to enjoy peach fuzzies (a peach lemonade), homemade peach ice cream and a peach dessert recipe contest.

“There’s a children’s performance parade, a puppeteer, singers and marching bands,” says organizer Jaci Stokes. The annual event features some 40 local craftsmen and upward of 20 food vendors.

Come hungry for something sweet. Last year’s recipe winner featured a cream-filled peach cookie baked into the shape and look of a real peach, with a filling of vanilla pudding and peach schnapps.
 

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Harrington Heritage Days | August 28, Harrington

Delaware is defined by its small towns’ embrace of their past. Harrington is certainly no exception. This one-day exhibition of Harrington’s history and heritage celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009. The Heritage Day Parade reappeared last year to mark the expansion of the event to citywide festivities centered at the Delaware Agricultural Museum, the vendor court and stage, and the Del-One Kids Zone. Heritage Day exhibits include a toy and train show that recalls the city’s connection with Delaware’s rail lines. The 2009 celebration shifted focus to spotlight Harrington’s agricultural roots. The museum features glimpses of the city’s past in the displays of old tractors, farm machinery and day-to-day life in a bygone era.
 

Riverwalk Freedom Festival | September 9-12, Milford

The festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, was renamed in the aftermath of 9-11. This year’s event honors the state’s First Responders and Hometown Heroes through a traveling flag exhibit, remembering those Delawareans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom.

The festival kicks off on Friday with a free concert, then officially opens on Saturday with a Relay for Life walkathon, a book sale hosted by the Milford Library, a car and tractor show, and a friendly tug-of-war between Kent and Sussex County firefighters. Saturday includes numerous kid-focused activities such as face painting, pony rides, a petting zoo and a super slide. The day begins with a pancake breakfast, then ends with an impressive fireworks display set to a medley of patriotic music, as well as a “Memories of Elvis” concert. The festival strikes a more solemn note with a church service in the park, with donations collected for purchase of phone cards for our deployed troops.
 

Amish Country Bike Tour | September 11, countywide

Cyclists can choose a scenic route of 15, 25, 50, 62 or 100 miles around the county. The stop at the Amish Schoolhouse is famous. And there’s all the support you could ask for: a picnic lunch, food stops, water bottle, route map and flat roads all included in your registration fee. Stretch the ride into a weekend with a special bike race at Legislative Mall in Dover and live performances by top-notch local entertainers.

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Diamond State Barbecue Championship | October 16, Dover

This annual rib-tickler is part of the Kansas City Barbecue Society championship circuit. Last year’s event featured prize money totaling $15,000 and a Strongest Man Contest, part of the North American Strongman competition. The Big Boys Toy Show returned to showcase RVs, motorcycles, boats, four-wheelers, hot tubs, pools, spas and more. The event is held on the infield of Dover International Speedway. Entertainment has included a Battle of the Bands, a children’s area, the pit-stop challenge, a stock car simulator, radio control cars, an Umpapa band, the Dover High School Marching Band’s drumline, and the Delmarva Studebaker Drivers Club. The 2009 event featured barbecue provided by, among others, Herschel Walker’s Famous 34 Ribs. The events included beer can chicken, beef brisket sandwiches, bratwurst, knockwurst, spaetzle, German beer, funnel cakes and much more. This is one event that is not on your Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers plans.
 

Wine and Music Festival | November 11-12, Dover

Held at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, this annual festival is planned around a theme that incorporates the sights, tastes, wines and tunes of the era, including live performances and musical tributes. From 50 to 100 wines from around the world are featured for tasting, judging and purchasing. Numerous food stations are set up around the ballroom for sampling. Guests may sign up for live cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and lessons on wine making. Guests are encouraged to dress in theme, and cash is awarded for the best costume.
 

Annual Chocolate Festival | November 26-26, Dover

The annual Chocolate Festival takes place on Friday and Saturday on Thanksgiving weekend and offers fun for the entire family. The festive gathering is held in the Rollins Center of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, which is transformed with holiday embellishments, winter scenery and festive music in celebration of the coming season. All ages are invited to enjoy free chocolate samples, lively choral, dance and musical performances, ice carving contests, a model train display, and a one-of-a-kind gingerbread and candy village. Children can learn to make a chocolate lollipop, while a friendly Santa listens to Christmas wishes. There are opportunities to browse and shop, with a broad selection of holiday gift offerings and dozens of craft exhibitors.
 

The Steppin’ Seniors entertain the crowd at the Home for the Holidays celebration in Dover. Photograph by Robin CoventryHome for the Holidays | December 3-4, Dover

Home for the Holidays attracted several thousand visitors to downtown Dover during its inaugural 2008 celebration. Attendees were treated to a parade, performing groups, a scavenger hunt, free Christmas wrapping and a visit from Santa. The festival, sponsored by the Downtown Dover Partnership, puts the commercial area of downtown Dover on display and offers shoppers an opportunity to cash in on merchant discount coupons for holiday bargains. 

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