After kicking off last Thursday, the 41st annual Hope Watermelon Festival continued through Friday and Saturday with the usual abundance of good food, fun games and entertainment.
After kicking off last Thursday, the 41st annual Hope Watermelon Festival continued through Friday and Saturday with the usual abundance of good food, fun games and entertainment. Although a short rain and thunderstorm occurred midday Friday, the rain held off much of Saturday as Governor Asa Hutchinson arrived with several hundreds of others.
In its highest number in recent years, the festival had an estimated 111 vendors Thursday, Friday and Saturday serving food as well as selling merchandise and providing consumer information. Final numbers on overall festival attendance were still not available as the Hope Star was preparing for press Tuesday.
On Saturday afternoon, Beckie Moore, the new director of Hope-Hempstead Chamber of Commerce, said "It has been a busy weekend, and it looks like everyone coming is having a good time. Each day, it looks like the crowds have increased, and that is something to celebrate. We were thrilled to see the coliseum filled with vendors; it is so great to see the variety of the items out there. There is a good buzz out here, and we’ve seen folks from all over Arkansas, all over the country,” she said.
Local antique store owner Bob Erwin had a booth at the Fair Park Coliseum on Saturday, and he said, “Things have gone well. I am pleased so far. We’ve seen quite a bit of traffic.”
As usual, the festival also had its traditional petting zoo and pony ride booth setup as well as its annual Antique Car Show on Saturday.
And, then there was infamous “Politically Correct” Watermelon Eating contest pitting various state, county and local public office holders against each other; in political seasons, the event has become somewhat of a rite of passage for any aspiring or current office holder.
For Hutchinson, his last appearance came in 2014 as he was running for Governor, and now in 2017 as a reelection campaign looms in 2018, he was back.
“I always enjoy coming here. I love supporting the great traditions of Arkansas, and there are few older and significant traditions than the Hope Watermelon Festival in southwest Arkansas,” Hutchinson said while eating a slice of watermelon with a traditional folk prior to the contest.
“I wanted to take the opportunity to enjoy a good slice of watermelon before getting up there in that contest,” he said.
Hutchinson’s regular schedule includes many appearances at festivals throughout the state, although he admits he can’t make them all in a given year.
“I can’t make it to every festival year every year, but I want to be able to support them and try to be there every other year. These are such great traditions and gives me the opportunity to meet with citizens and voters who have concerns, but also to celebrate the wonderful quality of life we have in this state,” he said.
Hutchinson did confirm he was seeking another four year term in 2018, saying “We will see how next year shapes up, but I am looking forward to running for another four-year term. I hope to be back next year. In the meantime, I am delighted that we have the lowest recorded unemployment rate in the history of Arkansas; we’ve created over 70,000 jobs, and we continue to work on economic development.”
Hutchinson also said positive relationships with Chinese companies and investors continue in the State of Arkansas, even as international affairs remain volatile.
“We have developed very positive relationships with Chinese companies in these challenging times. Most recently China did support us in the sanctions against North Korea, and I thought that was a huge victory for the United States. And, it shows maturity of China, both in terms of global trade and global responsibility,” he said.
“Right now, Arkansas is a beneficiary of many great partnerships with Chinese companies, and I feel very positive about it. The four Chinese companies that are investing in Arkansas right now are putting real money into these projects,” he said.
Ultimately, Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton won the contest again with Prosecutor Christi McQueen finishing in second. El Dorado State Senator Trent Garner was said to have finished a close third.
But, State Senator Larry Teague took a different tact towards the contest, finishing dead last, but saying he won.
“Well, I took my time this year, and just decided I was going to sit back and enjoy one of these fine watermelons for a change,” Teague said.