Local organizations gear up for fall

Sussex County tourism used to be, at best, on a seasonal schedule. The tourists would come to enjoy the beaches for the summertime and then the residents would go back to their slower, lower ways.

However, that’s less and less the case. There are fun, worthwhile events every weekend from the first signs of spring through the end of the year. Even in January and February, Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Carol Everhart pointed out, there are holidays.

“Years ago it was seasonal, Memorial Day to Labor Day, period,” she said. “Then events started to happen in the shoulder season. Now, as long as there isn’t a major weather event, we’re 52 extended weekends. They’re coming in on Thursday and staying until Monday. I just don’t know if we even have a time frame anymore.”

Sussex County’s draw is twofold: the ocean and the culture, and in the fall, the latter is on full display.

Early fall

Labor Day falls on Monday, Sept. 4 this year. Bethany Beach will continue its quirky tradition that day, honoring summer with a jazz funeral on the boardwalk. That weekend, on Sept. 9, Rehoboth Beach will host its annual Sandcastle Contest, Bethany Beach will host the Boardwalk Arts Festival and Milford will host the Riverwalk Freedom Festival.

Also taking place the weekend of Sept. 9 is the 40th annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow in the Oak Orchard area of Millsboro. The celebration of the Nanticoke heritage brings together both descendants of the tribe and around 30,000 onlookers for cultural displays like singing, dancing, food and artwork.

At the end of September, it’s all about the music at the Dewey Beach Music Festival, Sept. 21-24, and the Dewey Beach Elvis Festival, Sept. 29-30. Lewes will host the maritime-themed Boast the Coast Day on Saturday, Sept. 30, followed by the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment’s Coast Day on Sunday, Oct. 1. The next weekend, Oct. 6-8, Greyhounds Reach the Beach and the Golden Jubilee will bring dog lovers to town just in time for the annual Rehoboth Beach Sidewalk Sales. Also that weekend, on Oct.7, celebrate Wings and Wheels at Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown, “Where the sky meets the road.”

Bridgeville’s Apple Scrapple festival is set for the weekend of Oct. 13.

“It is a family-friendly, open-air street festival celebrating all that makes Bridgeville special - apples and scrapple,” said organizer Karen Johnson.

Apple Scrapple begins Friday evening with a street dance and the Little Miss Apple Scrapple pageant. Saturday is an all-day event with over 500 vendors, including homemade crafts and local businesses and organizations. This year will also feature an expanded food court area, as well as new carnival rides.

Music at Apple Scrapple in 2017 includes Flatland Drive, Lower Cast Blues, Dirt Road Outlaws, Charlie and the Cooltones and Eastwood.

“We are truly excited to bring the festival back for its 26th year,” Johnson said.

Sea Witch

The mega-popular Sea Witch Festival will be held Oct. 27-29 in Rehoboth Beach this year. The event draws over 200,000 people annually and costs about $100,000 to put on, funded entirely by business sponsors.

“The business community supports it because they see the results,” Everhart said.

There’s so much going on at Sea Witch it’s almost impossible to do it all. There are vendors, kids activities, a fiddlers’ contest, food, games and of course, parades. It’s hard to determine which is more popular – Saturday’s costume parade on Rehoboth Avenue or Sunday’s dog costume parade on the boardwalk. You can view the complete festival program at beach-fun.com.

Due to the festival’s tremendous growth, shuttle services from several points outside of town have been expanded this year. In years past, officials would fence in cars parked along the median on Rehoboth Avenue the morning of the festival’s signature parade. This year, they’ll fence off parking along Rehoboth Avenue altogether on Saturday. Anyone parked on the street that morning will be unable to move their vehicle until late afternoon, after the parade.

The events attract people,” Everhart said. “The area is the draw, but when you give them something more to do, it brings ‘em in. They’re all just looking to have fun.”

Punkin Chunkin

Some organizations, however, haven't been as fortunate as the RBDBCC in their ventures. One signature Sussex fall event will be missing from the calendar this year.

The 32nd Punkin Chunkin was scheduled to take place Nov. 3-5 in Bridgeville. However, after a woman at last year's event was injured and filed a lawsuit, organizers have canceled this year's event.

Punkin Chunkin, a Sussex tradition since 1986, first started having legal problems in 2011, when a volunteer was thrown from his ATV and later sued. In 2016, a piece blew off an air cannon as it fired and hit a film crew member in the head. She is also suing, and the Science Channel, for whom she was filming, withdrew their support of the event.

The pending lawsuit names the nonprofit World Championship Punkin Chunkin, its officers and the landowners who donate their Bridgeville property for the event as defendants.

"The landowners who graciously donate the use of their property each year for our non-profit endeavors are ... listed as Defendants [sic]," said representatives in an official statement. "They are reluctant to host our 2017 event in light of the lawsuit. With less than 74 days until our event, we are left with no options."

The statement also indicated that refunds will be issued within the week.