WASHINGTON — Perhaps the biggest news surrounding the annual Washington Good Neighbor Days festival is the return of a parking lot.
Festival-goers can once again park in the large paved lot to the east of the festival grounds that normally serves Connect Church and A&J Storage & Development.
The parking lot was off-limits last year for festival patrons because it was being used temporarily by Uftring Chevrolet while its new dealership was being built following a devastating January 2018 fire.
Besides less festival parking last year, there were trickle down effects like having only one instead of two festival parking entry/exit routes, reduced space on the festival grounds for attractions because more of the grounds had to be devoted to parking, and a lack of room for the popular pony rides.
"We've had pony rides at the festival for years. It's a kids' favorite. A lot of people asked us last year why it wasn't there," said Chevie Kriete, executive director of the Washington Chamber of Commerce, which organizes and presents the festival.
"Once we explained why there were no pony rides and it was just a one-year thing, people understood," Kriete said.
With parking available again at the Connect Church/A&J lot, Kriete looks at this year's festival, which will be held Wednesday through Sunday on John Bearce Companies property at 1800 Washington Road, as more of a normal one.
How normal? Pony rides will be offered Thursday through Saturday.
"We were tight on the festival grounds for a year," Kriete said. "But I'd make that tradeoff again to have Uftring keep operating after their fire."
What's new at the festival this year?
For one thing, there will be a family movie night for the first time.
"The Secret Life of Pets" will be shown from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday near the festival's main stage.
"Wednesday is our festival kickoff day, but it's always been kind of a bare bones day," Kriete said. "We always have entertainment scheduled the other days, so we thought we'd add the movie to the Wednesday schedule."
Another new twist this year is fountain soda in the chamber's food tent, donated by Rocor Industries in Washington.
Here are some other festival highlights:
* The 2019 Good Neighbor Award will be presented at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
* Fireworks shows are scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
* The winner of the Washington Kiwanis Club's inaugural Cutest Pet Contest will be announced at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
To enter a pet's photo in the contest, go to www.gogophotocontest.com/kiwanisclubwashingtonillinois. Fee is $10. Votes are $1 each. First prize is a trophy, $100 gift basket from Camp Bow Wow dog daycare, boarding and grooming in Peoria, and a professional photo.
Contest proceeds will be split between the Kiwanis Club and Moms Who Care, a not-for-profit organization that provides clothing and hygienic items for area youngsters.
* Sunday once again is unofficially the festival's carnival day. The carnival is all that will be happening on the grounds from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For the fifth year, a portion of the chamber's Sunday carnival proceeds will be donated to a local charity.
After the Dax Foundation benefited for four years, this year's it's Colton Underwood's Legacy Foundation, which raises funds for the battle against cystic fibrosis.
In exchange for its cut of the chamber's carnival proceeds, the benefiting charity provides manpower for a cleanup of the festival grounds on the Monday after the end of the festival.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.