THREE RIVERS AREA Nothing says summer like a perfectly ripe watermelon, and nothing says watermelon like a Cave City watermelon.
"We have the world's sweetest watermelons, and no one has proved us different," said Charles Landers, Cave City Watermelon Festival chairman.
Landers said he's expecting 16,000 to 17,000 people to show up for this year's festivities, which kick off with the watermelon judging at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, and wrap up with a drawing for $500 cash at 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8.
Normally, about 15,000 people attend the festival, but organizers are preparing for larger crowds as more people look closer to home for entertainment in the down economy.
"They can come and stay for three days and not spend a dime unless they want to," Landers said. "That's three nights of entertainment. All they have to do is bring their lawn chair."
Visitors can count on watermelon being part of the free offerings. There will be a free watermelon feast at 4 p.m. Saturday.
"You can eat all the free watermelon you want," Landers said. "A lot of people come just for that. I'm serious."
The free melons will be provided by members of the Cave City association of Registered Watermelon Growers. George Carter of Carter Farms said they're donating about 60 apiece this year.
Carter called this year's crop "fair." His melons have been ripening late because the spring rains put him behind in planting. But some of the other growers in town have had better luck and have had plenty watermelons to offer for a while now.
Regardless of how many melons have come in, Carter said there's one big bright spot.
"The taste has been the best I've ever seen them this year," Carter said.
That's saying a lot. Landers explained some of the history behind the "world's sweetest watermelon" claim: "We had a taste-off a few years ago with Hope, and there were 11 judges, and at the end of the day, we had all 11 judges. So we like to rub that in. Another time, the University of Arkansas came in and tested our watermelons and found that they had the most sugar in the area. So we have plenty to be proud of around here."
New on the schedule of events this year is a tractor show on Saturday, Landers said. Other events include a car show beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday; a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday; the presentation of Queen Melon and beauty pageant winners at 10:30 a.m. Saturday; and a watermelon-seed-spitting contest at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Musical entertainment will be provided almost continuously for all three days.
All festivities will be at Cave City Park, right behind Sonic. Landers said a city ordinance prohibits pets and alcohol in the park during the festival. Landers said the law helps keep things family-friendly.
"It'll all be in a real confined area," Landers said. "It's a place where people can just come and turn their child loose and feel comfortable doing that. We'll have plenty of security."
More information, including a full schedule of events, is available at www.cavecityarkansas.info.
Three Rivers, Pages 49, 50 on 07/30/2009