By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — During the 1990s, Haverhill’s annual KidsFEST packed downtown streets on a weekend in May with children and their parents enjoying pony and wagon rides, petting zoos, carnival games, band performances and carnival food while also shopping for arts and crafts.
But it fizzled out in 2004. After city event coordinator Laurie Chase died on New Year’s Day, 2006, after a lengthy battle with cancer, the city revived the fun family event she’d helped coordinate each year.
KidsFEST moved around to various downtown locations, including Railroad Square, then in 2012 it was moved to the upper deck of the Merrimack Street parking garage. Last year it returned to downtown streets, but this year it’s been moved out of the center of town to rural Kimball Farm in the eastern part of the city on May 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kimball Farm, 791 East Broadway.
Rain date is Sunday, May 25, same times.
Organizers of one of Haverhill’s biggest social events of the year say that by moving KidsFEST 2014 out of the downtown to a local farm, they can offer different activities than in past versions of the family festival, while bringing people of all ages closer to nature.
Outside food and beverages, dogs, skateboards and bicycles will not be permitted.
Admission is free, however, a fee of $2 per car to park at the farm will defray staffing costs, while additional parking proceeds will be donated to a local charity, organizers said.
Organizers say they carefully considered and debated the use of shuttles to bring more people to the event, but the cost of the busing service and the associated liability expense and exposure made it an impossibility on the limited budget they have to produce the event, they said.
“Since the event is run completely by volunteers and by the generosity of private business sponsors, we have to weigh carefully each decision we make from a financial and logistical perspective,” said Chamber Vice President Jennifer Cantwell.
She said the Chamber is also working with the Haverhill Police Department to expand National Night Out, a fall event focused on bringing free activities, food and games to inner-city families. Additionally, with the return of Team Haverhill’s River Rukus, the organizing committee believes there will be ample events in the downtown area this year.
“We are convinced that the new lush venue of Kimball Farm will expose residents from all parts of Haverhill to an experience they have never had before at KidsFEST,” Cantwell said.
Chamber President Sven Amirian said it’s very important for children in the community to stay connected with nature and that Kimball Farm offers the perfect setting for families to enjoy traditional KidsFEST attractions while also having a place to run and play in wide expanses of green grass.
Along with opportunities to expand, the organizational committee of dedicated volunteers is aiming to include educational, athletic and creative opportunities for all who attend.
Amirian said the farm will allow for activities enhanced by a natural venue.
From good old-fashioned “field day” activities like water balloon tossing, parachute play and potato-sack races, to bigger and more exciting additions like sumo wrestling and a Velcro wall jump, Amirian said these are all possible due to the change in venue.
Other features include the Haverhill Junior and Senior Idol singing competitions, a giant mural art project, gladiator jousting, obstacle course and relay races, wrestling demonstrations, live petting zoo, monster truck, teddy bear and doll clinics, drumming, giant bubbles, a touch ambulance, vintage fire trucks, Ghostbusters car, bouncy house and more.
Activities that charge a fee include helicopter rides, pony rides, sumo wrestling, bungee run, a “wreck the sand castle” raffle and feed the farm animals. Food and refreshments will be available for purchase.
“KidsFEST is truly a demonstration of how the chamber and its members work together to produce a community event that benefits Haverhill and the surrounding towns that the chamber serves,” Amirian said. “Not a dime of municipal money goes to subsidize this event, so we are deeply grateful to our generous chamber sponsors and volunteers who make this event possible.”
Sponsors include Trinity EMS, Merrimack Valley Hospital, Holy Family Hospital, Pentucket Medical Associates, Wilson Design, Pentucket Bank, Align Credit Union, Haverhill Family Eyecare PC, Haverhill Police Department, HC Media, Kimball Farm, Event Partners LLC, Pine Brook Place, and the Haverhill Cultural Council.
For updates on KidsFEST, contact the chamber at 978-373-5663 or email@example.com. Visit online at www.haverhillchamber.com.
IF YOU GO
What: KidsFEST 2014
Why: A festival for families that focuses on children’s interests
Where: Kimball Farm, 791 East Broadway
When: Sunday, May 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Rain date: May 25 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: Free, but parking is $2 per vehicle. ATM is onsite.
Not allowed: Outside food and beverages, dogs, skateboards and bicycles will not be permitted.