Penticton Peach Festival is set to kick off with what they’re expecting to be their biggest festival to date on Wednesday, and will run until Sunday. Western News file photo

Organizers expect record attendance at Peach Fest

President Don Kendall is calling the entertainment and parade lineups their best ever

Penticton Peach Festival organizers are expecting this year’s festival to be the biggest in its history, as they prepare to enter its 70th year.

Peachfest’s kids’ zone will be opening up at 9 a.m. in Gyro Park, with peach bin races and entertainment kicking off the festivities at noon.

“Everyday is a big day, but Wednesday we’ve got the air show and as well as 54-40 headlining,” said Peachfest president Don Kendall. “You have the motocross, there are the two shows on Wednesday. It’s a huge day.”

As smoke continues to fill the Okanagan Valley, with haze in Penticton considered a high-level risk, the Snowbirds are still unclear whether they will be able to perform their aerobatics show, scheduled for 6 p.m.

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But Kendall pointed to fluctuating air conditions both recently and in the past, noting that the Snowbirds were forced to do their “low show” four years ago after the skies changed from clear at 1 p.m. to hazy at 5 p.m.

“Nobody can predict what the weather’s going to be like. You hope for the best, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said, noting they likely won’t make the decision until just before the show.

According to a news release, if the Snowbirds are unable to fly for the show, they will do a meet and greet with the public at the Okanagan Lake Park.

Save for a near-zero visibility come 5 p.m. tomorrow, however, the Canadian Forces Skyhawks Precision Parachute Team is fully expecting to put on their aerial show for crowds.

A CF-18 Hornet fighter jet show is scheduled to run after the Snowbirds, at 6:45 p.m., which officials say will go on regardless of the smoke conditions.

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Kendall pointed back to the motocross, which will also go on regardless of the smoke conditions, adding that last year’s first appearance at Peachfest was a success.

“It ran on one day last year with two shows and attracted about 7,000 people for the two shows, so we’re thrilled to have them back this year for three days, two shows a day,” Kendall said.

“And this is, without doubt, the best entertainment lineup we’ve ever had.”

Kendall said Trooper recently played for $40 tickets in West Kelowna, while 54-40 played Tinhorn Creek winery last year with $80 tickets.

“You come to Peachfest and see these people for nothing,” Kendall said. “You don’t get to see bands like Aaron Pritchett and Trooper and 54-40 and Powder Blues for free.”

Related: 54-40 to rock Peach Festival

Beyond the entertainment, Kendall noted a slo-pitch tournament, square dancing, a skateboard and BMX competition and two parades.

“It’s a lot more than just the entertainment,” he said. “The fact that thousands and thousands of people every day get to enjoy this for free is incredible.”

The Penticton Okanagan Rotary will also be holding their 34th annual sandcastle competition on Thursday, with registration running at 4 p.m. and sculpture time kicking off at 5:30 p.m.

Last year attracted an estimated 80,000 event visits at the festival, which was about the same as 2015, though it’s unclear how many individual people attended Peachfest.

But this year, Kendall said he’s looking to break that record.

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“We expect record crowds. We’ve got the best parade we’ve ever had, we believe, we’ve got the best entertainment lineup we’ve ever had. We’ve got tremendous events throughout the five days for people of all ages.”

Part of the reason 2015’s numbers hit as high as they did in 2016, however, was because an estimated 20,000 people watched the Snowbirds do their show.

“When they perform, Okanagan Lake Beach, all the way around is wall-to-wall people. You can’t even see the sand,” Kendall said.

“The traffic stopped on Highway 97 last time to watch them. And up on Munson Mountain and Naramata way, the roads were all clogged by people watching them.”

With that in mind, Kendall noted it’s best to be patient when travelling during Peachfest, adding that transit might be the best option for most people attending the festival, with limited parking and plenty in attendance.