Changes shake Hampton County’s Watermelon Festival

Changes shake Hampton County's Watermelon Festival (Image 1)

Known as the longest running festival in South Carolina, the Watermelon Festival will kick-off in a couple of weeks. However, this 73rd year comes with some controversial changes. Hampton County Council has voted against holding a major festival fundraiser, a mud run, in its usual spot near airport property. Now, festival Chairman Jimmie Polk is taking action to try to curb the loss. 

For Polk, the festival is a tradition, a way of life.  

“It’s a real big event that’s been going on since I was little ‘ole boy,” Polk says.

The two-week calendar of events includes concerts, parades, contests, and exhibits, all centered around a local watermelon harvest. Polk believes it can bring-in between 60,000 and 100,000 people to the small town streets each year. 

The festival’s price tag is between $15,000 and $20,000, and has been paid for in the past mostly by two major events, a carnival and mud run. These covered more than half of the festival’s expense, according to Polk, since most events held throughout the celebration are free for the public to attend.

This will be the second year with no carnival. Now, there have been changes made to the mud run, too. When County Council voted not to allow the mud run to take place near the airport property where it has been for years, citizens believed the event would not happen. Luckily, Polk says he managed to move the event to Yemassee.

“It’s going to impact some of the local people turnout, because it was so close here in town…and the mud run really generated a lot of money, too, and it was usually anywhere from $6-$10,000,” he says.

Polk says changes like these could be detrimental to the festival. While he says it is fortunate that the event will still happen, there is a higher price tag to having it in this new spot.

“Well, it’s going down a bad road and the biggest thing you know, we’ve got to come up with some more events, obviously,” he says. 

But without the festival…Polk fears Hampton loses a community staple. 

“I don’t know…I’m scared to even think about it,” he says.

There are questions that remain. Why did County Council vote to end the event  now, where it had been for years? NEWS 3 has reached out to all five councilmen, but calls and messages are not returned. NEWS 3 was able to reach Councilman Chris Haulsee, but he will not comment because of his position also on the festival’s committee. Some citizens hope for answers in an upcoming council meeting.  WSAV will continue to follow this story.

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