March 21, 2009
Neal Wagner -
Sunny, cloudless skies, mild temperatures and slow-cooked pork marked the atmosphere Saturday afternoon at the Grilling on the River festival near Reuben''s restaurant.
But possibly more attractive than what many described as a "perfect day," was a feeling of community togetherness shared by the hundreds of people who strolled through the carnival-like atmosphere Friday and Saturday, visitors said.
"To have free events like this really brings the community together and it gives you a great chance to come out and meet great people," said Gary Walford, a resident of El Paso, Texas, who was visiting family members in Columbus. "I agree that the economy could be better right now, and that''s why I think we can''t get enough of free or low-cost events like this one.
"Plus, this is one of the most interesting events I''ve ever been to," Walford added. "I''ve been talking to some of the grilling teams today, and most of them have quite a setup. Everyone seems to have their own unique recipe."
As dozens of barbecuing teams from across the South attempted to win over a panel of judges by preparing pork in several different varieties, local and out-of-town visitors expressed their satisfaction with the free event.
"It''s great because it''s something everyone can do without actually spending money, which is important right now," said local resident and Severstal employee Dan Van Norman. "It''s a perfect day and it''s really nice to come spend a day out here in the park.
"There really is a lot of variety out here," Van Norman laughed. "It''s not just barbecue. There is a lot of stuff out here for families and everyone."
With many facing stress from a sagging national economy, Saturday''s festival allowed hundreds of visitors to take time away from worries to appreciate family time and spring weather, some said.
"This is our first time out here, and it is just beautiful. It couldn''t have been held on a better day," said Foster Lindsey, who was accompanying his young daughter, Alexa. "I think, because admission is free, it''s really helping to draw people out here to enjoy it.
"As you can see, we''ve already been playing some games this morning," Foster Lindsey laughed as he pointed to his daughter holding three small stuffed animals she won in a dart-throwing game.
Although this year''s festival was held in a large field near Ruben''s and the Columbus Riverwalk instead of its former location at the Magnolia Motor Speedway, visitors praised the change in location, saying it offered a "wide-open" atmosphere and easy access to the dozens of vendors scattered across the "Grilling" grounds.
"So far, things have been great today. This is a perfect place to have something like this because it''s nice and open," said Kristie Walford, Gary Walford''s daughter-in-law. "As far as parking, I don''t really see a problem.
"Do I think it''s beneficial to have free events like this? Yes, I do," Kristie Walford added. "People need something exciting like this to help get them out and about."
Even those who did not come for the food agreed Grilling on the River provided them with a day of fun.
"I''m a vegetarian, but I have to admit that barbecue smells very good," laughed Ursula Walford, Gary Walford''s wife. "I have been having a very good time today. This is one of the most unique things I have ever attended."