BANDON - The State of Oregon awarded the Greater Bandon Association's Gorse Blossom Festival with the 2017 Best Downtown Special Event award during its annual Excellence in Downtown Revitalization Awards on Oct. 4 in Oregon City.

The awards showcase the people, projects and activities that represent the great achievements in downtown revitalization efforts throughout Oregon. The Best Downtown Event award recognizes excellence in a single downtown special event, festival or promotional series.

The inaugural Gorse Blossom Festival made a splash in Bandon on Feb. 17-19, bringing seafood, beer and wine to the coastal community for the President's Day weekend festival.

In addition to all the fun of treats and beverages, the festival also boasted an opportunity to learn about Bandon’s local nemesis, the prickly-gorse plant. Brought here in the early 1900’s, gorse has been plaguing Bandon with its sharp thorns and allergy inducing pollen each year and is locally known to be nearly impossible to get rid of without brute force. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, the plant is also incredibly flammable and has been a key force in burning Bandon to the ground - not once, but twice.

With the opportunity to learn, eat and drink to their hearts' content, visitors flocked to the area, filled Bandon restaurants, perused the shops, and booked local motels. The festival ended early each evening with the purpose of sending visitors out into the community to spend money and to participate in other merchant-focused activities that included a Presidential Pub Crawl, music and fire dancing outside, and a Sunday morning Bloody Mary Stroll through Old Town.

The festival went off, with many hitches, but proved to be a fantastic success, according to GBA chairman Harv Schubothe. Over the weekend, more than 800 people ventured into the fisheries building on the waterfront, along with 40 vendors serving up beer, wine, cider and seafood. Some places even joined in on the gorse fun, and served gorse cider, wine, cocktails and cheesecake. 

The event was a huge boost to the local economy with some merchants reporting they had their biggest weekend all year.

The festival also featured local gorse fighters: the Gorse Action Group and the Go Native! Project to educate visitors about this invasive species. In addition, other coastal nonprofits including Surfrider and Sol Coast joined the festivities.

Thanks to volunteers

Schubothe was on hand to accept the award in Oregon City on Oct. 4.

"All of you here tonight that have ever put on a major festival like this one knows that it is not one organization or one individual that can make something like this happen but rather an entire community, hundreds of volunteers and I am here tonight to accept this award of their behalf," Schubothe told the audience.

"I do want to acknowledge especially Rushel Reed who created and tirelessly led this effort and GBA's Dana Nichols who contributed countless of her RARE hours to help make this festival happen.”

"The Gorse Blossom Festival is a fantastic opportunity for Bandon to show off its charms to visitors, involve the community and extend our shoulder season for merchants," said Reed. "We have managed to use our fun, low-waste festival to educate the public about invasive plant species and environmental awareness while entertaining crowds with music, food and drinks. We were able to involve a larger part of the community than a typical festival does through specialty dinners, the Bloody Mary Stroll and pub crawl. The 2018 festival is already shaping up to be even better."

Nichols added: "It's really exciting for a community of our size to have extraordinary events like the Gorse Blossom Festival. Not only does the festival bring entertainment to our area, but it also increases money coming into our community during the off-season, provides an outlet for environmental education and gives the locals a chance to show off what we have.

"Rushel and I were delighted to push for qualities of a festival that matter to us: showcasing quality local ingredients, creating quirky designs and activities and encouraging less or no waste wherever possible. We're thrilled to receive this award and look forward to many more years to come of hating gorse!"

Schubothe invited everyone at the conference to come and enjoy President’s Day weekend on the southern Oregon coast in 2018 and partake in the second edition of this award-winning event.

Port Orford also awarded

Port Orford's Whimsical Fire Hydrants art project won Honorable Mention for Best Image Campaign. Port Orford Main Street Revitalization Association's purpose for this project was to turn Port Orford's rusting fire hydrants into pieces of art as part of POMSRA's efforts to brand the Port Orford business district as an arts and cultural district.

Individuals from the organization plus a number business owners adopted a hydrant for the project. Other goals included: making a more walkable experience and helping businesses, creating promotional materials including a walking map, placemats with before and after pictures, and promoting relationships with the community. As part of the project, two contests were held. More than a hundred citizens voted for the best hydrant and 59 children participated in a coloring contest.

Other awards

Projects in 11 other cities in Oregon were honored with awards, including Port Orford, which won Honorable Mention for Best Image Campaign. Port Orford Main Street Revitalization Association's purpose for this project was to turn Port Orford's rusting fire hydrants into pieces of art as part of POMSRA's efforts to brand the Port Orford business district as an arts and cultural district.

"The award winners reflect some of the highest achievements in downtown revitalization efforts across the state," said Sheri Stuart, state coordinator, Oregon Main Street. "It is simply amazing to see the people and partnerships that develop focused on enhancing the vitality of the historic core of their communities and the projects they implement primarily through volunteer efforts."

The wide range of awards is reflective of the comprehensive Main Street Approach to downtown revitalization developed by the National Main Street Center. This model is used by the communities participating in the three-tier Main Street Track of Oregon Main Street Network. From 2010 to 2016, communities participating in the Performing Main Street and Transforming Downtown levels - the top two tiers - have seen $75,740,994 in private building improvement projects, $91,222,600 in public projects, 1,082 private rehab projects, 561 net new businesses, 121 business expansions, and 2,699 net new jobs. In addition, close to 176,000 hours of volunteer time has been contributed to local main street organizations.

Oregon Main Street is part of Heritage Programs, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. For additional information, visit www.oregonheritage.org.

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