Township officials are hoping residents see Hamilton’s new event, Oktoberfest, as a 2-for-1 deal.
Replacing the annual Septemberfest and Fall Harvest, Oktoberfest will take place Oct. 15-16 at Veterans Park. There is no admission charge. Despite the name, there will be no alcohol sold or permitted at the event.
Mayor Kelly Yaede said she and her staff have been considering an Oktoberfest as an alternative to Hamilton’s two fall festivals for some time. They decided 2016 was the year for change after experiencing parking issues the last few years at Fall Harvest Fest in Kuser Farm Park.
“We get record crowds at our events,” Yaede said. “The capacity for Fall Harvest became such that it was just too dangerous.”
Yaede promised the tradition of Hamilton’s beloved Septemberfest is still alive in Oktoberfest, which will also reflect the flavor of the now-defunct Fall Harvest festival.
“What Oktoberfest is, it combines your Fall Harvest Fest and your Septemberfest under the decor of a Fall Harvest,” Yaede said. “Everything that was provided for Septemberfest will continue.”
The event kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 15 with a performance by The Heartbeats at 3:30 p.m. There will music and food vendors during the afternoon and evening. Bounce houses will be set up for children and fireworks will be set off around 7:35 p.m., after the concert has finished and the sun has set.
Sunday’s festivities will be more aligned with those of Fall Harvest and will begin at 11 a.m. There will be 30-35 craft vendors, approximately 20 food vendors, bumper cars and rock walls, as well as activities such as stuffing scarecrows, a petting zoo and an expanded pumpkin patch, which Yaede is especially excited about.
The pumpkin patch was always a hit at Fall Harvest, but was constantly overcrowded, Yaede said. The goal this year was to expand the pumpkin patch, which couldn’t be done at Kuser Park.
“You’d see [parents] prop up their baby on the pumpkin, or next to the pumpkin, and you can see the christmas cards going out,” the mayor said with a smile.
Aside from the kids’ rides, there will be “Touch a Truck” and “Trunk or Treat,” a section for kids to get up close to the town’s vehicles and explore them first-hand, from snow plows to firetrucks.
A new feature this year is the New Jersey Hall of Fame mobile museum, brought to Oktoberfest by the New Jersey League of Municipalities. Admission to the exhibit is free.
The biggest motivator for change this year, according to the mayor, was public safety. Veterans Park has fewer issues with parking than Kuser Park, and the township has agreements with surrounding schools and businesses to provide parking for people during the event, as well as shuttles that can transport people from further parking locations to the event.
“The mayor’s made every effort to maintain the tradition of our events yet keep it fresh,” township recreation director Jeff Plunkett said. “It’s our tradition, but it’s also our goal…to make it attractive every year.”
Also, by combining the two events and making Hamilton’s fall celebration earlier in the season than Fall Harvest Fest, it leaves more time for township workers to prepare for Winter Wonderland at Kuser Park.
“It takes days and nights just to wrap all the trees in all the lights for Winter Wonderland,” Yaede said. “It’s much easier for staff to work in the daylight rather than the overtime needed to work at night.”
The officials also said the idea to change up Hamilton’s fall events came from both inside and outside of the mayor’s office. Both Plunkett and Yaede said they have have received requests from residents to alter Septemberfest and Fall Harvest.
“Over recent years, we started to receive requests from residents, ‘Is there anything else for Septemberfest?’” Yaede said.
In addition to requests to move Fall Harvest earlier in the season, she’s also had inquiries about moving Septemberfest later in the season because, with the start of the school year, it’s a busy time for parents and children alike.
“Septemberfest has been a staple in Hamilton Township,” Yaede said. “Now, we just wanted to add to it, make it safer and let us start preparing for Winter Wonderland.”