Chamber, Village Team Up To Ensure Fun, Safe Cherry Fest

The 41st annual Whitehouse Cherry Festival takes place from Thursday, June 6 through Saturday, June 8 at Whitehouse Park, 6751 Providence St. The event takes coordination by the Anthony Wayne Regional Chamber of Commerce and the village of Whitehouse. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Imagine planning a party for 10,000 people – that’s what the organizers of the Cherry Festival do each year.

The Anthony Wayne Regional Chamber of Commerce board and volunteers start in January, lining up details ranging from entertainment, food trucks, vendor booths and rides to the less obvious necessities, such as portable restrooms, liquor licenses, security and electricity.

Organizing the Cherry Fest is like running a well-oiled machine, said chamber board member Wendy Gehring, explaining that Josh Torres has been leading the charge for 19 years. This year’s Cherry Fest debuts on Thursday, June 6 at 6:00 p.m. with an opening ceremony in the Whitehouse Park pavilion, 6751 Providence St., and continues through Saturday, June 8 at 11:00 p.m.

This year, the chamber is using proceeds from the festival to reimburse the village for $4,400 worth of electrical work that will eliminate the need for a generator at the back of the park, Gehring said, and demonstrates the chamber’s commitment to investing back in the community.

At the same time, Torres noted that he’s grateful for the contributions of the village staff to ensure the safety and health of festival attendees by providing police, fire, EMS and public works staff valued at nearly $8,000.

Like the chamber staff, the village employees devote time into planning once the chamber submits an application to use the park, said chief operating officer Joshua Hartbarger. The village staff meets with chamber members to ensure that each person knows who is responsible for barricades, electricity, trash and other details.

“I don’t think people realize this is a full-city operation,” said Police Chief Allan Baer.

At least two officers work the beer and wine tent while another two patrol the park. The parade is all-hands-on-deck, he said.

“On average, several thousand people are there at any given time, so security is absolutely an issue,” Baer said. “We started using dump trucks as moving barricades at both ends of the parade because we’ve seen incidents throughout the United States where vehicles are used for mass casualty.”

Police officers also direct traffic for the Friday evening Julie’s Fitness Studio race, the Saturday afternoon parade and throughout the three-day festival. While volunteers are trained to set up barricades and do some traffic direction on side streets, the major routes require a cruiser with lights and an officer.

Both the police and fire chiefs prepare lengthy incident action plans detailing exactly how each potential scenario might be handled, such as in the event of a severe weather event, said Fire Chief Jason Francis. Working with Anthony Wayne Local Schools, Francis has buses ready nearby in case people need to be evacuated to safety, he said.

At the Cherry Fest building, a first aid tent will be open with staff offering fire prevention activities and assistance in case of a medical emergency or minor injury. This year, the police will offer a special ID program to easily reunite lost children with parents, Baer said.

“We’ve always had kids we find who are missing their parents and parents who come up because they’ve lost a kid,” Baer said. “We usually have two or three lost kids each year.”

Whitehouse Fire Lt. Kelly Norris had the idea to use wristbands where parents can write their phone number and place it on the child. Staff will also take a photo of the child next to a yardstick in order to document the child’s current height and attire, making identification easier.

Festival attendees can also feel confident that the food trucks and rides are safe. On Thursday, Francis will conduct inspections of all food trucks, making sure they have a working fire extinguisher, CO2 detector, no-smoking signs, two means of egress and – if they fry foods – a full inspection report and cleaning report like a typical restaurant.  

He also inspects all of the rides as a safety precaution, making sure that each ride and bounce house has an active sticker from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Francis further checks to make sure that the beer and wine tent is safe for occupancy.

For having thousands of people in town, the number of incidents is relatively low, such as lost cell phones, keys, wallets and kids, or near-misses with pedestrians and cars. 

“We’ve have had the occasional fight – the estranged husband locating his estranged wife, or people going into mental health crisis, but as a whole, for so many people, it’s not that many incidents,” Baer said. 

Most of those incidents are medical, such as heat-related illness or diabetic incidents.

While the Cherry Fest is a lot of work, Baer said it’s a great community engagement opportunity for the police, fire, public works and administration.

“It is a lot of fun. Our officers are riding golf carts, meeting people and eating Outlaw BBQ,” he said.

In addition to the Cherry Festival activities, White-house residents and businesses are hosting parties and food trucks as families come together for the big weekend.

“It’s really a community event,” Gehring said, explaining that people will park at the quarry and walk around and see the Blue Creek Metropark and visit downtown businesses. “The Cherry Fest is a time when people can come together and have fun.”

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