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Jul. 22, 2019
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Gainesville’s Spring Chicken Festival moves to lake park

By Jane Harrison
 
The city of Gainesville has more to cluck about than chickens, especially when the region’s major tourist draw sparkles between its welcome signs. This month Gainesville pays tribute to the bird that built the town and the resource that is now symbolized in the blue wave-like graphics on its city limit signs. On April 27, Gainesville’s 15th Annual Spring Chicken Festival will roost at Longwood Park, a popular lakeside venue about 1.5 miles from downtown.
 
“We’re so excited to showcase one of our lakeside parks,” said Gainesville spokesperson Nikki Perry. “We’re such a lake community and the opportunity to hold the festival at a lake park highlights Gainesville’s connection to the lake.”
 
The chicken cook-off and local arts market began in Roosevelt Park, adjacent to the Hall County courthouse, and moved to the parking lot on the Downtown Square when it outgrew its original site. Perry said the city decided to move it to Longwood Park due to expected construction on “the fourth side of the square,” where a developer plans to build a condo/retail/restaurant complex. “Construction could begin any day now,” she said in mid-March.
 
Chicken chefs, both professional and backyard, can fire up their cookers, smokers and grills in the Longwood parking lot on Pearl Nix Parkway, where the aroma will waft over a lake cove. Local artists can show off their crafts at booths on tree-lined paths that weave beside the lake. Children can frolic at the playground with extra activities, including face painting and games. Folks can eat chicken at picnic tables in the lakeside pavilion and at tables and benches elsewhere in the park.
 
Twenty-two cook teams filled up the limit to compete in wing and specialty chicken categories.
 
The free festival lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. With a $6 Cluck Card, taste testers get samples from the cook teams, which will serve until 3 p.m. While the judges finalize their decisions, everyone enjoys the festival until the cook-off winner is announced at 4 p.m. Cluck Cards are available online at www.gainesville.org, at the Gainesville Convention & Visitors Bureau at 117 Jesse Jewell Parkway, and will be sold at the festival.
 
Adequate parking may be one potential hitch in the move from downtown to the park, but Perry said the city plans to operate shuttles from the square to the festival. About 800 parking spaces are available across Pearl Nix Parkway in Gainesville school lots. Some attendees might enjoy the 2-mile stroll from the square through three much loved city parks to reach the Longwood destination.
 
Perry compared expected attendance at this event, which usually numbers more than 2,000, to the annual Butterfly Release at Wilshire Trails, across the street from Longwood. Parking has always been manageable at that event, she said.
 
The festival pays homage to Gainesville’s traditional claim to fame as “The Poultry Capital of the World” while moving the chicken alongside a new wave of fame.
 
“When people think of Gainesville, we want them to think of Lake Lanier,” Perry said.
 
A downtown summer event is also shoving off from the square and heading to the lake. The July 13 Beach Bash is moving to Lake Lanier Olympic Park, with more room to run toes through the sand, do the limbo, and kick up your heels to the Electric Avenue band.
 
Head downtown after festival for live music
Downtown Gainesville businesses that traditionally draw business from the Spring Chicken Festival have hatched a new activity to bring in crowds from the fest’s new location on the lake.
 
A concert on the square at 4 p.m. will feature Atlanta party rock band Redneck Blonde and country artist Joe Hall. The concert is presented by Downtown Drafts, the new Gainesville Business Coalition, Peach State Bank and Northeast Georgia Health System.
 
“The Chicken Festival ends at 4 p.m., so this is our way of keeping the fun going for everyone after it’s over,” said Aimee Hoecker, Downtown Drafts owner.

Posted online 3/29/19
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