EW PALESTINE — With a steady hand, Amy Anderson lifted the paintbrush to Elise Ford’s face and carefully drew a white star, adding the finishing touches atop a layer of red.
Anderson, an artist with Willing Hands Designs, offered a number of patriotic designs for the children attending the Chamber Fest 2016 Independence Day celebration in New Palestine, this past Saturday. Her booth was among dozens that popped up along Main Street for the day-long street festival, which drew some 6,000 people downtown for food, live music and family-friendly activities.
Ford, a Harris Elementary School second-grader, was grinning ear to ear as Anderson completed her design.
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It’s the kind of response officials with the New Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce were hoping for when they pulled out all the stops to host what they called the biggest event ever held in the tiny rural town of 2,100 people.
Organizers closed U.S. 52 all day and night, brought in nationally known country duo Thompson Square, and booked 80 vendors who set up shop along Main Street to make it a one of a kind event for the town.
The event kicked off bright and early Saturday morning with more than 130 runners taking part in the fifth annual 5k Dragon Dash. Former chamber president Gary Halliburton said organizers worked hard to pull off the run and the whole day’s events, but in the end, they knew they were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“I woke up this morning, saw the sun and said, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” Halliburton said with a laugh.
Chamber members had been planning the event since March, representative Caralee Griffith said.
Nearly all chamber members, around 170, helped in one way or another to make the event a success, she said.
Safety officials warned organizers that while the crowds might be smaller during the day because of temperatures reaching the 90s, things would pick up shortly before the main musical performance and fireworks.
Griffith and organizers estimated a crowd around 10,000 by showtime, but they were happy with the turnout.
“We’re not disappointed at all,” Griffith said. “It really has been just wonderful.”
Early in the day, the crowd was around 2,000 for the car show, where 114 entrants, showed off their wheels. While a steady stream of patrons strolled Main Street looking at the cars and motorcycles on display, the heat kept many from spending too much time outside.
“It’s pretty hot,” New Palestine Council member Clint Bledsoe said, “but I think everything came together like they wanted.”
As the sun began to set, the crowd grew, and children began to fill the kid’s zone, where all kinds of games and entertainment awaited.
Nicole Adcock of Greenfield spent most of the day at the Chamber Fest with her family. While her father and husband took part in the car show, her children romped around the fun zone, non-stop.
“I don’t know if we’ll stay for the concert after being here all day with a 4-year-old, but the kids are having lots of fun,” she said.
Adcock said the event offered something for children and adults alike, including a beer and wine garden for patrons who were old enough to partake.
Cassie Willhelm, a New Palestine High School senior, and a couple of her friends, didn’t seem to mind the midday heat and walked along Main Street from one end to the other, seeing the sights.
They were impressed with how well the festival was organized.
“There are so many vendors from places I have never seen before,” Willhelm said. “That interests me because I want to go into business.”
Event organizers felt the festival was a success.
“It’s been worth all the hard work,” Griffith said. “We’re excited to start planning for next year.”