Dozens of kids and their families filed into J.F. Gregory Park Friday morning where they were greeted by Ronald McDonald, Elmo, Spiderman and others as they helped officially kick off the13th annual Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival.
Each year, children with special needs and their families are invited to the festival before the official opening for a few hours of free carnival rides and free lunch compliments of local businesses, according to Brianne Yontz, executive director of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce.
But the children weren’t the only ones beaming with smiles. Their parents were as well.
“The kids were really excited about coming and so are we as parents,” Staycee Thomas, who brought her two sons out for the event, said. “Having special needs kids, you’re weary of bringing them to things like this, but (the special opening) makes it so easy.”
Kristy Gyer and her family came out for the special day and she said her kids were enjoying the rides and having a blast – and also enjoying the day out of school.
“There needs to be more things (like this) for the kids,” she said.
Tricia Skaggs watched her son, Justin Skaggs, on a ride as he smiled and waved. She said this was the first time they’d attended the special day. But she was enjoying it just as much as her son was, she said.
“It’s awesome just seeing him smile – it almost made me cry,” she said. “Just to see him smile is great because they can’t do this normally because they can’t wait in line.”
Yontz said the chamber reaches out to area schools and offers for them to attend. She described the early opening as one of the philanthropic aspects of the festival.
Gates opened to the public at 5 p.m. Friday, and the festival and carnival rides continue through Sunday afternoon. The festival is open today until 11 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission to the festival is cash only, though there will be ATMs on site. The cost of admission is $5 for adults except from 4-11 p.m. today, when the cost for increases to $15. Children ages 4-12 get in for $3 and all children 3 and under are free.
Some vendors may have their own credit card machines, Yontz said, but the majority of the festival will be cash only. Additionally, anyone who plans to purchase beer or wine at the festival should bring a valid government-issued photo I.D.
Although there is no on-site parking, Yontz said free parking will be in the old Kroger parking lot near the intersection of highways 17 and 144; at Richmond Hill Primary and Richmond Hill Elementary schools off of Hwy. 144; and at Hobart Corp. on Hwy. 17.
And a complimentary shuttle service will run continuous routes during festival hours.
For more information, please visit www.goseafoodfestival.com, or call the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce at 756-3444.