Festival aftertastes

September 30, 1992

Success begets traffic jams -- a maxim for modern times.

Lines of cars headed to the recent Maryland Wine Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum were backed up for a mile along both sides of Md. 140. Upon reaching the ample grasslands, people out for an afternoon of fun in the September sun again had their patience taxed by long lines to reach the ticket booths.

The two-day festival that celebrates Maryland's viticulture and wineries has become the most popular annual event at the museum, drawing visitors from Canada to California.

The 140-acre setting is perfect. Getting there, however, is no fun.

Organizers were pressed to the limit to accommodate crowds that reached 23,000 this year. Motorists mostly had to fend for themselves in creeping toward the museum grounds. There were no signs on the main approaches indicating alternate routes, no traffic police at those intersections.

Festival workers had walkie-talkies to direct visitors to ticket booths, but used them belatedly and people were unwilling to move to an unseen line.

For next year, officials are considering a three-day festival, which should help to ease the crowding that characterized this year's event.

Success could also strangle the annual Bel Air Festival for the Arts, which has mushroomed in recent years.

To get a feel for how big it has become, consider that the popular Harford County Farm Fair draws a total of 80,000 people over four August days and nights to the 25-acre equestrian center. The arts show draws 30,000 in a single day to a four-acre site.

Some exhibitors were stunned by the "garage sale mentality" that drove many prospective buyers and browsers to the festival near the crack of dawn even though the advertised start was 10 a.m.

The festival organizers have resisted moving the event to the agricultural fairgrounds beyond the town limits on the thought that the festival is a "gift to the town of Bel Air."

A move to the Hoza property being developed into a town park near John Carroll High School is another option.

To be sure, problems confronting the Maryland Wine and Bel Air arts festivals are the fruits of success. Still, the organizers have to grapple with them, or the flavor that has made their events beloved will get lost in the crowds.

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