Winchester’s Public Works Cleans Up After Apple Blossom Festival

Tom Denney may be relatively new to the post of manager for the Public Works Division of the City of Winchester, Virginia, but as a long-time Winchester resident, he’s an old hand at the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® that’s been coming to town each spring for the last 84 years. So even though he pays a lot more attention now to what the streets look like after the big parades, he had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into this April for his first Apple Blossom as head of the Public Works crews.

The 84th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® was held in Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia, April 25 through May 1. While more than 30 events take place at this huge event, the City of Winchester Public Works Division is responsible for only the streets and sidewalks of the city—a big enough job right there.

Apple Blossom Time in Winchester
The process begins in January with meetings and preparation, Denney explains, so the festival planners and the city departments are ready when the festival brings thousands of people into the city on the Friday of the first weekend in May. An easy drive from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Richmond, the festival’s parades and other activities draw about 250,000 participants and spectators into Winchester just over that weekend.

The two largest events impacting Public Works are the Firefighters Parade on Friday evening and the Grand Feature Parade on Saturday afternoon. With marching bands and fire trucks, Denney estimates there are 200 to 250 pieces in Friday’s parade—and double that amount on Saturday. He says, “Around 5:00 a.m. on Friday, we put out no-parking signs and barricades to close the streets for the parade and the day’s other events. We also place 1700 trash boxes around the city.”

Winchester also has the Old Town Mall where vendors set up stands. “It’s almost like a carnival from Friday at noon until after midnight Saturday.” Although the staff remains on stand-by throughout the day while thousands enjoy the more than 30 events and myriad vendors, they still get to be spectators for a little bit. “During breaks, our employees are able to walk the one block from our office to view the parade,” Denney says.

Once Friday night’s parade is over, everyone has left the parade route and closed up the vendor stands on the mall, Denney’s teams remove all the barricades and signs and re-open the streets.

“Post-Parade Caravan”
“Starting at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, we clean up from the activities the day before. Four refuse trucks travel the streets to collect trash from the 1700 refuse boxes that we had put out at 5:00 a.m. Friday. The streets and sidewalk clean up—I’m really amazed at this—we can do in about two hours,” Denney says. There are 20 to 25 guys with blowers who work ahead of the sweeper truck, blowing loose trash off the sidewalks to the curb, where the two sweeper trucks can then pick it up. “It’s a post-parade caravan,” he describes.

Friday night also features a fireworks display at the local high school. “So after we clean up the parade and vendors’ routes, we have to mobilize at the high school grounds to clean up from the fireworks crowds,” he says, “At the same time, we’re putting up the street barricades for Saturday.”

After the Saturday parade crowds have moved off, and after all the vendors have packed up and departed as the night turns to Sunday, the Public Works crews run pretty much the same post-parade caravan as the night before, “But with the addition of a professional crew contracted only to power-wash the sidewalks of the Old Town Mall. Our goal is for everything to be finished and spotless before the downtown church services begin or the restaurants open. This year, it was about 4:00 a.m.”

Final Clean Up
With no added staff during this major event, Denney says, “Everyone works, no time off, from Friday at 5:00 a.m. until we finish at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday. We all clock about 37 hours.” Denney, speaking from his many years as a spectator and participant and now as a member of the clean-up crew, “The one thing I’ve always said is you can drive through our town on Sunday morning, and you’d never know anything happened. You’d never know there were 250,000 people here the day before. That’s how hard everyone works and how well they do their job.”

On Monday when the crew arrives to work, there are a few lingering items to deal with, like the trash beneath the grandstands after the Apple Blossom workers take them down. There’s also a wrap-up meeting, which gives everyone a chance to tweak the routines and processes for the next festival, but Denney says not much changes, “It’s really a well-oiled machine. And everyone loves Apple Blossom. There’s more pink and green shirts and shorts and suits than you’ve seen anywhere else, and all the houses and even City Hall fly pink and green flags and banners. It really does bring the community together.”

At the Winchester City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 10, Winchester mayor Elizabeth A. Minor thanked the Public Works Division for the great job it did putting the city back to work after the festival.

The Other 360 Days of the Year
When it’s not Apple Blossom time, says Denney, “the division is responsible for all streets and sidewalks, all refuse and recycling (and we do a lot of recycling), the garage for the city, and all city vehicles, mowing, tree care and other landscape tasks.”

Public Works has 45 full-time employees, with a supervisor over each department, and, for Denney, “the best thing about working here is that each department has something special to give to the city and its citizens. That’s what we’re here for.”

To find out more about the City of Winchester:

To find out more about The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival:

Story by Anne Biggs