Estimated crowd of 37,000 attends 35th Hanover Tomato Festival

Volunteers man the tomato sales tent during Saturday's Hanover Tomato Festival.

Volunteers man the tomato sales tent during Saturday’s Hanover Tomato Festival. The event sold out of tomatoes by 3:30 p.m.

An estimated attendance of 37,000 puts this year’s Hanover Tomato Festival in the top-five most-attended festivals in the event’s 35-year history.

According to Greg Sager, director of Hanover Parks and Recreation, about 12,200 vehicles entered Pole Green Park Saturday – each containing an estimated three passengers – to celebrate the Hanover Tomato and take in the vendors, entertainment and food.

While Sager said the uncertain weather forecast might have kept some at home, the event is still considered a success.

Still, the event was not without its bittersweet moments. This year’s Tomato Festival was dedicated to the late Oscar Watson, a longtime Black Creek fireman and 34-year event organizer. During opening ceremonies, plaques of recognition were presented to Watson’s widow, Sandy, and daughter, Lynn, as well as the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department. Del. Chris Peace (R-97th) also presented the family with a resolution recognizing Oscar Watson’s service to Hanover County.

“When Parks and Rec came on board, Oscar was already Mr. Hanover Tomato. Forget ‘Mater Man. He was ‘Mater man,” Sager said, referring to the event’s mascot. “He was so representative of everything that was good about the event and about Hanover itself.”

“We would have loved to have been able to give this to him in person for the 35th, but instead we’ll do it this way knowing Oscar’s looking down and no doubt happy about the turnout today,” Sager added.

Neither Lynn nor Sandy Watson could offer any words during the emotional moment.

Larry Leber, president of Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department, who has also been with the event since its founding, credited Oscar for the success of the Hanover Tomato Festival.

“This was a small little community thing to publicize Hanover Tomatoes and over the years through Oscar’s leadership it’s grown and grown until it’s gotten to the size it is today,” Leber said. “We all miss Oscar and wish he could be here and we know he is looking down from above. Here’s to 35 more years.”

Final numbers are not yet in for how much tomato sales generated for the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department. But they ran out of tomatoes to sell around 3:30 p.m., which is usually a good sign, considering there were 200 bushels at the event.

“Whenever, tomatoes sell out, we know things are going to work out well,” Sager said.

Sager said organizers were pleased with the overall production of the event. Traffic backups on Pole Green Road never went past Bell Creek Road, which Sager called “extraordinary,” crediting the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office for helping to keep traffic moving.

“The last thing [festival-goers] want to do is wait in traffic,” Sager said.

Exiting the festival became problematic, due to the loss of a dedicated egress lane, which festival organizers had to shut down around 11:30 a.m. because of wet conditions leading up to Saturday. Still, Sager said the exit lane was able to accommodate a “couple thousand” vehicles during the morning peak.

“In a perfect world there wouldn’t be any rain leading up to the event,” Sager said.

Even though the grounds were soggy, Sager said no vehicles became disabled because of the wet conditions.

Overall, there were few surprises at this year’s festival. The weather cooperated for the most part and no attendees experienced heat-related ailments at the event. Sager said a couple festival-goers did have to leave the festival due to “minor ailments.”

Following this year’s event, Sager said organizers aren’t looking at making any major changes but “we tinker with it every year.” There’s always room to improve with traffic control and parking, for example.

“In 35 years, we’ve had some great festivals but haven’t achieved perfection,” Sager said.

Hanover Parks and Recreation would appreciate input from the public to help make the festival even better next year.

“After you look at it so closely, you almost get tunnel vision,” Sager said. “We want to make sure we’re seeing everything.”

Contact Parks and Rec via email to HanoverTomatoFestival@co.hanover.va.us with any tips and suggestions.

Posted on Monday, July 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm