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Scarecrow Fest changes draw strong reactions

ST. CHARLES – Amy Egolf said if Scarecrow Fest could be organized all over again, she would have tried to keep the scarecrow displays in two locations.

Egolf, executive director of the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, said social media sites such as Facebook drew a variety of comments about this year's layout.

"Obviously, there are some strong opinions out there," she said. "But that speaks to how much people love this festival."

The 27th annual Scarecrow Fest spread scarecrow displays in three locations instead of a single location. Scarecrows were on display there, at the St. Charles Municipal Center and on First Street.

In years past, scarecrows had been displayed in and around Lincoln Park. This year, festival organizers opted to distribute scarecrows to spread out the crowds of hundreds of thousands who annually file through the park for the fest.

Alma Arellanes of Montgomery said more scarecrows should have been placed in Lincoln Park.

"It's just too spread out this year," she said.

But others, such as the Heilers family of St. Charles, said the changes enhanced the festival.

"It was so crowded before [in years past]," said Gary Heilers. "You couldn't even walk."

"We're excited to see the changes and see it grow like this," Tracy Heilers said.

Egolf said the scarecrows could have been displayed more uniformly.

"It's always hard to hear anybody not be happy about components of the festival," she said. "We're listening, but at the same time, we are pleased with the measures we took."

She said festival organizers saw potential safety hazards with all the foot traffic going through Lincoln Park. But spreading the displays out wasn't the only change at the festival this year – organizers extended the times of trolley services and remote parking lot shuttles. Some stops also were changed to relieve traffic congestion.

The total number of people who attended won't be available until later this week, Egolf said. Last year's Scarecrow Fest drew 150,000 to 180,000 people.

"Without specific numbers, it's obvious that we didn't have the record crowds we had the year before," she said. "You can point to the weather."

While it was sunny for most of the weekend, temperatures were in the mid-40s, which Egolf said might have kept people indoors.

Egolf said she couldn't say whether the same three-location layout will be used next year, but the focus will be the same.

"Scarecrows, of course, are the heart and soul of the festival," she said. "We don't want to do anything to take away their importance as the main role of the festival."

• Shaw Media reporter Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.

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