Wine in the Woods festival will have new layout

Event rearranged in anticipation of changes to Symphony Woods

May 08, 2010|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Wine in the Woods regulars, take note: There will be a slightly different feel to Howard County's popular festival next weekend.

Yes, Maryland wineries will be thrust into the spotlight as always, with 31 participating this year. Sixty-five artisans and crafters will ply their wares, 27 restaurants and caterers will tempt taste buds, and 12 musical acts, including festival favorite Deanna Bogart, will perform at the two-day event, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. May 15 and 16.

And, as it has for each of the festival's previous 17 years, the county recreation and parks department will spend the last week before the event prepping the borrowed woodlands in the heart of Columbia's town center to host a party whose attendance depends heavily on the weather.

The difference will be the festival's layout, rearranged this year in anticipation of changes in the works for Symphony Woods, the 38-acre park where the festival is held.

"We met with [the Columbia Assocation] and saw their plans for the land, so we are adapting [our use of] the site to leave the central area open where a water fountain and other features will eventually be located," said Laura Wetherald, county bureau chief of recreation and administrative services.

"We are thrilled with their cooperation," said Chick Rhodehamel, CA vice president, who said he couldn't begin to comment on when phase one of Symphony Woods Park would start because the association is just days into its new fiscal year, which began May 1.

"The county is making a real serious effort to leave us in the best possible position" for when that time comes, he said.

New restrictions were placed by CA on the county's site access for the heavy equipment used to set up the festival in order to maintain renovations made to the property since last summer, said Rhodehamel.

Heavy equipment rolling over the root zones of trees can make them unhealthy or even kill them, he pointed out.

"The key feature of Symphony Woods is the trees," he said. "It's a lovely wooded site, and the trees are what make it all work.

"But even in places where we thought heavy equipment could be tolerated, the county is using temporary roads" made of heavy foam-rubber padding to disperse the trucks' weight and prevent the creation of deep ruts in grassy areas, he said.

After Monday, the festival site will be off-limits while final preparations take place, Wetherald said.

By making changes now, the 30,000 or so people who are expected to turn out will begin to get familiar with the future layout of Symphony Woods and be able to navigate coming festivals more easily, she said.

"This site is so unique with all the trees and the flat areas that it's truly an art to fit everything in," she said. "The festival got crowded last year, so these changes will give people more room to meander."

Larger picnic areas resulted from revamping the layout, said Karen Bradley, special events coordinator, and the redesign created "a really nice human traffic flow that cuts down on congestion."

"Wine in the Woods 18" has come a long way since 8,000 people attended the festival's inaugural event in 1993, said Linda Bell, a part-time special events employee who has worked on every festival.

"Some of the wineries that are new to the event this year are small and this [setting] gives them a chance to get some exposure," she said.

The festival, which is designed for ages 21 and older, but does sell tickets for nondrinkers and kids, draws visitors from Washington, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, among other states, said Bell, who oversees the artisans and crafters.

And having Deanna Bogart entertain year after year "makes us feel very fortunate that she's still willing to give us time on her schedule," she said of the popular East Coast performer.

Advance ticket sales are usually a key indicator of the size of the crowd that might turn out, said Bradley.

"At this time last year, we had sold 800 tickets online and in-person, and this year we have sold 1,200, so we are expecting sales at the gate to be higher than 2009," when 28,000 people came, she said.

"Most people don't want to commit until they see what the weather is like and then decide which day to attend," she said, adding that some die-hards will come in any kind of weather and "county employees will be there ready and waiting" for them.

"People really enjoy this festival," Wetherald said. "The event is a well-oiled machine."

If you go

What: Wine in the Woods

Where: Symphony Woods, Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

When: Noon to 6 p.m. May 15 and 16 (rain or shine)

Cost: $30 general admission, $15 for designated drivers, $5 for ages 4-20, free for ages 3 and younger

Information: 410-313-7275

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