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Patrons line up to sample  prize-winning barbecue at last year's Riverfest at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur.  Riverfest is recognized as the Alabama State Barbecue Championship. This year's festival will be Sept. 21-22.
Daily file photo by John Godbey
Patrons line up to sample prize-winning barbecue at last year's Riverfest at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. Riverfest is recognized as the Alabama State Barbecue Championship. This year's festival will be Sept. 21-22.

Waiting for barbecue at Ingalls Harbor
Improvements in store at this year's Riverfest

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com 340-2441

Competitors are ironing aprons, burnishing grills and sharpening knives to prepare for the 13th annual Riverfest and bragging rights to Alabama's best barbecue.

"I'm ready. I'm just wondering if Ingalls Harbor is ready for us," said Doug Feil, a Decatur competitor.

Decatur Jaycees are holding the Sept. 21-22 event at Ingalls Harbor, which is a work in progress and dependent on federal money.

"Rhodes Ferry was great for us, but we just outgrew it," said Jim Page, an event planner for the Jaycees. "Ingalls Harbor gives us almost four times more room than Rhodes Ferry and allows us to bring in more barbecue teams, parking and entertainment."

Those pluses have some minuses and after last year's experience at Ingalls, some competitors may wonder what modifications await.

"We learned a lot from last year and saw what worked and what didn't work," said Jaycees President Jeremy Ledlow.

To provide more room for patrons to set up tents and lawn chairs, the Jaycees are moving the entertainment stage flush with the river. Centering the stage in front of the river also allows the audience to simultaneously soak in the river's ambience and view performances.

Portable restrooms will be closer to the lawn, making them more accessible and visible.

Page said most people will overlook what he considers the main improvement — the lawn.

Decatur's Parks and Recreation Department scrambled to complete sod laying only weeks before last year's Riverfest. With just two weeks to set, the sod had not rooted and was soft and pliable.

After a year of maturing, the lawn provides a sturdy foundation for recreational vehicles, tents, cooking equipment and the stage.

"There will be a lot more entertainment held throughout the day, including all day Saturday," Page said. "Last year we had two nationally known bands; this year we have at least four."

Before last year's event, residents questioned the placement of Riverfest next to Decatur Utilities' often-odorous wastewater treatment plant. The aromas from the 70 barbecue teams, however, covered most unwanted smells.

"DU worked with us last year and did everything they could to help us out," said Ledlow. "I didn't hear any complaints and only got a whiff of the smell once when the wind shifted."

DU monitoring plant

DU will monitor the plant's odor during Riverfest and work to alleviate any issues, said Gas, Water and Wastewater Manager Gary Borden. With two months of minimal odor emissions, Borden said he is confident the odors will not be offensive.

The Jaycees anticipate permanent restrooms for next year's Riverfest.

Responsibility for these lies with the Parks and Recreation Department. With the designs complete, Jeff Dunlap, director of Parks and Recreation, expects to put the restrooms out for bid by Friday. Construction is expected to take six months, weather permitting.

Cultural landmark

The city-funded restrooms represent a miniscule part of the master plan designed to make Ingalls Harbor an economic and cultural landmark. Supported by the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, it includes a pavilion, museum and riverboat docking facility. Actual construction depends on federal appropriations, which Congress will determine in early 2008.

"Riverfest will continue changing until the park is done. ... We are trying to grow an event that will benefit Decatur," Ledlow said.

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