Patti Clevenger was giddy Monday morning.
It was four days and counting before the opening of the Children’s Adventure Land at the 2008 Foothills Fall Festival. Clevenger was grinning from ear to ear.
“Every thing I plan is happening this week. Today is my off day and tomorrow, but starting Wednesday, the Greenbelt will be transformed into everything I laid out,” the event chair said. “My little map is going to become a reality.”
Her little map is the grid by which city personnel set up all the different tents, venues, activities and vendors that make up the different sections of the Children’s Adventure Land. Each section is geared toward a different age level child.
“This is my favorite week of the year because it’s so exciting to put this together, I love planning events, and then it happens. It’s here,” she said.
Early in the week city personnel hook up electricity and water, then vendors and other activities begin to come in. By Thursday night, the transformation is almost complete for opening at noon on Friday.
“You take that Greenbelt, which is beautiful in its own right, and make it into a place for kids to have fun and do everything they want for free. It doesn’t cost them a penny. It’s a magical place,” she said.
The Discovery Adventure Land is along McCammon Avenue at the end of the pedestrian bridge to the Pistol Creek station. It goes all the way to Cusick Street. The Showtime section starts on the other side of Cusick Street where the Health Department is.
Cross the bridge, and you’re in Tiny Tot Land. The Boy Scouts are staging an encampment behind Los Amigos. On the other side of the encampment is the entry to Extreme Adventure Land, which goes all the way to the Alcoa city line.
Clevenger said that planning for the next year’s event begins before the current festival is over.
“I’ll spend my weekend looking at whwhere the kids are hanging out. What activities have the longest lines? That tells me what I need of next year. This year, for example, we have two laser tags and two Euro bungees,” she said.
Clevenger said another popular attraction that is returning is the Ultimate K-9 show. That and The Dragon Legend Acrobats are big draws for people of all ages.
“This is the third year for the Dragon Legend Acrobats, and they are still packing them in. You’ll see people come to the Greenbelt just to see them. The same thing with the Ultimate K-9s. You see babies all the way up to great-grandparents. That’s a neat thing,” she said.
Often times an attraction will run its course and won’t be back for a while or at all. “It doesn’t mean they’re not good, but you have to keep things fresh. As long as it’s still fresh, you want to bring it back,” Clevenger said.
Throughout the year, organizers are planning the Children’s Adventure Area. “I go places and Jane Groff, the events coordinator, goes places to check out things for the Children’s Area. There are always ideas about ways to make it better,” she said. “I don’t think kids care, really. They just want to have fun. Very rarely do you see sad people. You see tired people, but not sad people at the Children’s Area.”
Clevenger relishes seeing the youngsters as organizers prepare to open the Children’s Adventure Area. “The minute we open it, you see all those smiling faces. If you have had a sleepless night, suddenly you don’t worry about it,” she said.
Something that’s new this year in the Children’s Adventure Area is temporary tattoos.
“We’re sort of getting away from face painting. The lines were so long, and we decided we wanted to try something different. We’ve got tattoos of the Children’s Adventure Land logo and the festival guitar logo,” she said. “They look good and come off easily. There are four tents, so you won’t have to stand in line so long.”
Clevenger said the area would be spread out a little further than it has been in the past. A second laser tag was added in the Extreme Adventure Land.
While GreenBank is the long time sponsor for the Children’s Adventure Land, Lance Cunningham Ford has come on as a sponsor for the community stage at the Pistol Creek Station, where there will be a karaoke contest. Winners will appear on the main Theater in the Park stage on Saturday night between Billy Ray Cyrus and Jason Aldean and on Sunday night between Jason Michael Carroll and Billy Currington.
The U.S. Army is also one of the sponsors of the festival, and they’re bringing their Virtual Army Experience for those age 13 and older to the hill by the flags at Cusick Street and McCammon Avenue. “It has been explained that this is how they train their soldiers,” Clevenger said.
The Children’s Adventure Area chair said that when the entertainment p art of the festival is sold-out, it has the effect of packing the Children’s Area. Regardless of the number of people, Clevenger said the festival planning committee made the commitment to keep it free.
“We don’t sell merchandise in the Children’s Adventure Land. That is a decision that was made with the third festival, and it has been that way ever since,” she said. “We don t want people to worry about money. It’s all about the community. It’s how we give back to the community and let them have fun. That was a brave move.”
The Children’s Adventure Land has changed over the years. “I can remember we had one stage -- 4 feet by 8 feet -- and one information booth instead of one in each area,” Clevenger said.
Another change was using volunteers to run the activities the first two years. “I thought, ‘We have too many people in Blount County who will do this.’ Everything you save you can put toward activities in. It’s all in how the money is spent,” she said.
Clevenger said that first year they used volunteers instead of paid personnel was nerve-racking. “The festival committee will tell you -- I was about in tears. Now we have a waiting list. In those 7 years, we’ve seen it go from barely enough to where we have approximately 70 volunteers per shift,” she said.
“Used to be we had volunteers who wanted to work all day long and now, because we have so many who want to volunteer, we limit them to one shift a day. It’s incredible,” she said. “I think that shows how this community feels about this festival.”
Clevenger said festival organizers couldn’t put on the three-day event without volunteers. “We couldn’t do it without them. I make it a point to shake everyone’s hand in the Children’s Area. If they’re giving time to this event, the least I can do is go say ‘Thank you’ for what they’re doing,” she said.
The Children’s Area chair said the Boys Scouts also would help the volunteers by bringing each volunteer a snack and bottled water. “There are years it was really hot. It’s hard in the Children’s Area. It’s fun, but it’s hard work. It doesn’t seem like two or three hours is long but when you’re working, it’s a long time.”
Clevenger said organizers in the Children’s Adventure Land have become more guest-conscious and more volunteer-conscious. “We want it to be a great experience for them and want them to have a good time. We want to take care of them,” she said.
The number of activities for children has grown substantially. “We went from 10 to now when we have 20 to 30,” she said.
Clevenger said the Children’s Adventure Land has an Action Team of 31 people. “I always tell them they make it happen. That started with 10 people who ran it. They know exactly what to do when kids are lost. They handle everything. They are empowered by me. I could not do it without them. We meet a couple times during the year so they know what’s going on,” she said. “At the end when the festival is over, they’ll tell me what to do to make it better. Everything they suggested, we’ve done.”
Clevenger said participants at the Children’s Adventure Land can expect to have more fun than they’ve ever had. “The fun is bigger. It’s going to be a more pleasant experience because things are spread out more. You won’t have so much congestion,” she said. “We have lots more food vendors than we’ve ever had.
“They’re going to have 20 hours of fun.”