Organizers of Illumifest, “A Fall Festival of Light,” hope to double the fun of families who attend the fifth annual event by expanding it to two days on Sept. 28-29 and offering a few new attractions while staying true to the festival’s roots.
Last year, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people attended the fall festival that is held annually at the West Des Moines City School Campus (4200 Mills Civic Parkway), and organizers are hoping to draw a bigger crowd this year. The event features an array of free, family-oriented activities designed to appeal to fans of all ages.
“This year is more of a full-scale carnival,” says Todd Seaman, superintendent of recreation for West Des Moines Parks and Recreation, who helped to create the event five years ago. “With the size of the crowd that we’re anticipating, we wanted to spread out the event over two days.”
Organized by West Des Moines Parks and Recreation, this year’s festival opens on Friday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. with several carnival rides and games. Patrons must pay to enjoy the rides for the first time in the festival’s history, but discounted tickets that sell for 25 percent less than tickets sold the day of the event will be available in advance at West Des Moines City Hall during the month of September. Tickets are $1 each, and many rides require two to four tickets.
Seaman adds that this year’s carnival is different from those in the past because it is designed to appeal to residents of all ages.
“There is everything from kiddie rides to bigger rides for adults, as well as food booths for everyone to enjoy,” he says.
Also on Friday, Sept. 28, the festival will include for the first time an All City BBQ featuring food by Famous Dave’s. Meals are $6 per plate and include pulled pork, cornbread, chips and a drink. Famous Dave’s will donate money for each meal that is purchased to the Valley High School Booster Club.
“Famous Dave’s will provide the food, and they will donate 10 percent of the proceeds of their sales to the Valley Booster Club,” says Seaman. “The meal will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. between Valley Stadium and City Hall.”
At 7:30 p.m., the Valley Tigers football team plays the Urbandale Jayhawks at Valley Stadium. Football fans are encouraged to attend Illumifest before and after the game, says Seaman.
“We’re hoping to create some synergy with the Valley football game that night,” he says. “We’re trying build a whole community focus with Illumifest because we want to make it a West Des Moines thing.”
On Saturday, Sept. 29, traditional Illumifest activities return alongside the carnival games and rides that open at 11 a.m. They include free hot air balloon and paddle boat rides at 5 p.m., free performances by high-energy entertainer Laura Ernst starting at 5:30 p.m., free face painting at 5 p.m. and a free screening of the children’s movie “The Lorax” on a jumbo 24-by-30-foot screen accompanied by a powerful sound system at 7:30 p.m. followed by a free fireworks show at 8:45 p.m. organized by the West Des Moines Fire Department.
“Some of those activities are unique to this event, which sets it apart from other events,” says Seaman. “There’s been a need expressed by the community that West Des Moines needs its own unique events like Summerfest in Ankeny or the Fall Fest in Beaverdale. A-MAY-Zing Days in West Des Moines is also one of those, but we wanted to offer residents something in the fall. Some of the activities for Illumifest are due to the setting with the pond on the city’s campus. It’s a good place to do things like the paddle boat rides and hot air balloon rides.”
Seaman says activities like the free hot air balloon rides and paddle boat rides are always in demand by patrons.
“Those are two of the most popular things to do at Illumifest,” he says.
He also notes that adding performances by Ernst, a former contestant on the popular NBC television show “America’s Got Talent,” should bolster the event’s attendance. Ernst, who lives in Des Moines and performs at festivals and schools, won first place at the World Juggling Federation in 2008, ranking her as one of the best jugglers in the world. Her show includes her performing inside a human-sized hamster ball as well as stunts.
“She has a background in aerobics and juggling and does an amazing job of performing with hula hoops and juggling fire. We’re excited to have her back,” says Seaman. “She will be performing several shows throughout the night and people seem to enjoy her shows.”
Seaman says those who want to enjoy the 14 or so carnival rides can purchase a wristband for $15 that allows them to ride as many rides as they like from 2 – 4 p.m. that day.
“That’s something new we’re going to try this year,” he says.
Also new this year is the Kosama 5K Glo Run, which starts at Southwoods Park and concludes at Ashawa Park.
“Runners have to do some activities and challenges along the way, which makes it fun,” says Seaman.
Organizers remind patrons to utilize parking available at nearby churches, Valley Southwoods and Jordan Creek Elementary schools when attending the festival.
“We need to utilize all campus parking. Those sites are walkable and not that far,” he says.
Though thousands of people are expected to attend the event to enjoy carnival rides and other recreational activities, Seaman reminds visitors that the basis for the event is to celebrate Asian culture.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, the first 1,000 participants can make their own decorated paper lanterns that are powered by LED lights and can be used during a special lightning ceremony later that night. A number of free displays by the Chinese Association of Iowa will also be featured.
Seaman says he borrowed the idea for Illumifest from other communities that have used LED-powered lanterns for public events, including the Mid-Autumn Festival that was previously held in Windsor Heights by the Chinese Association of Iowa.
“We wanted to create something special, and they were happy to work with us,” he says.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a popular East Asian tradition, dating back more than 3,000 years. It is sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival. In many Asian countries, it is a legal holiday that allows farmers to celebrate the end of the summer harvest.
“The lanterns are a big part of the event,” Seaman says.
Organizers hope that the event will resonate with local residents and that they will set their calendars by it each fall.
“We want everyone to have a fun time and feel good about their community,” Seaman says. “We want them to have a sense of being connected.”
Illumifest 2012 Schedule of Events All events will be held at West Des Moines City School Campus, 4200 Mills Civic Parkway. Visit www.illumifest.com or call 222-3444. Friday, Sept. 28 5 p.m. Carnival rides and games open 5 -7 p.m. All City BBQ, provided by Famous Dave’s BBQ, $6 per plate and proceeds benefit Valley High School Booster Club 7:30 p.m. Valley vs. Urbandale football game at Valley Stadium 10:30 p.m. Carnival rides and games close Saturday, Sept. 29 11 a.m. Carnival rides, games and food vendors open 2 -4 p.m. Wristband Special at carnival – $15 wristband good for access to all rides 5 p.m. Free lantern making begins (first 1,000 people only) 5 p.m. Free hot air balloon rides begin (weather permitting, limited number) 5 p.m. Chinese Association of Iowa exhibits and displays open 5 p.m. Free paddle boat rides open 5 p.m. Free face painting begins 5:30 p.m. Laura Ernst performances begin 7 p.m. Kosama 5K Glo Run starts (register by calling 724-2929, run starts at Southwoods Park) 7:30 p.m. Free outdoor movie (“The Lorax”) starts 8:45 p.m. Fireworks