Annual cookoff set for April 30-May 2
Following months of preparation, the annual South Belt Spectacular Cookoff is set to take place Thursday, April 30, through Saturday, May 2, at El Franco Lee Park, located at 9400 Hall Road. Thursday will be for cookers only.
Organized by the Southeast Volunteer Fire Department, the event is the sole fundraiser for the annual South Belt Fourth of July fireworks display, also held at the area park. Any additional funds raised will be set aside for scholarships and other community projects. Local parties interested in receiving donations should submit their propositions to the Leader via email at email@example.com.
With 82 cooking teams registered, this year’s cookoff will be the largest in the event’s 19-year history.
While evenings at the function are geared more for adults, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is intended for families, with children 12 and under being admitted for free.
Free children’s activities include moonwalks, rock climbing, pony rides, clowns, a petting zoo, a train, an obstacle course, face painting, hair braiding and extensions provided by the San Jacinto College Cosmetology department, a police helicopter and cruiser, a fire engine and ambulance display and photos with a live Watusi bull named Oliver.
This year’s event will also feature a coin-in-a-haystack game, in which children will sort through hay to find cash.
The contest will take place at noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday, with children being divided into different age groups.
“It’s the largest event of the year in the South Belt community,” said event chair Dean Baier. “It’s a great place to take your kids or grandkids.”
Just added to the event are Drums N Drones, who will perform the historic music of Scotland on drums and bagpipes. The group is scheduled to play four 30-minute performances on Saturday.
Also new this year is the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s Skywatch tower, aimed at preventing crime at the event. Skywatch is an observation tower that rises nearly 30 feet above the event, giving deputies a bird’s-eye view of the cookoff. The platform is equipped with floodlights, spotlights, a speaker system with public address and siren capabilities, as well as daytime and nighttime/infrared cameras.
While crime was relatively low at last year’s cookoff, numerous break-ins were reported the previous year.
The tower has greatly reduced crime at other events, such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In 2013, there were 34 burglaries of a motor vehicle reported at Reliant Park (now NRG Park). In 2014, the first year Skywatch was used at the location, only one burglary was reported.
Organizers would like to thank Sgt. Kim Fonville and reserve Lt. Bill Winning from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for their help in obtaining the Skywatch tower.
This year will also mark the first time deputies from the Harris County Precinct 2 Constable’s office will help patrol the event.
An auction will take place Saturday evening as the cooking awards are being presented. Current auction items include a chance to name the entrance sign at El Franco Lee Park, Schlitterbahn tickets and a two-night stay at the Golden Nugget casino in Lake Charles that includes a cabana.
While no outside alcohol is allowed to be brought in by patrons, beer will be for sale on the cookoff grounds, along with barbecue sandwiches, sausage on a stick, turkey legs, cotton candy and snow cones.
Additional parking and shuttle service will be available at Dobie High School. Dobie students and attendees should know there will be no parking allowed on Hall Road for the duration of the event.
While it has traditionally been reserved for cookers, the parking lot closest to Beltway 8 will be closed to the public this year, as it will be reserved for handicapped, a limited number of licensed Harris County employees and emergency vehicles.
Although not officially affiliated with the cookoff, parking will be available for a fee at Freeway Baptist Church, located at 8702 Kingspoint. Shuttle service will still be available for these drivers. Proceeds will go toward summer youth camps.
Attendees must enter the cookoff at the Hall/Blackhawk gate near the Little League fields.
Those utilizing the shuttle service should look for signs and/or flashing lights for pick-up/drop-off sites. One new bus has recently been acquired, bringing the total number of shuttles to three. Shuttle hours will be 6 p.m. to close on Friday and 2 p.m. to close on Saturday.
“We don’t want people walking on the streets,” said event organizer and Leader publisher Marie Flickinger. “Safety is our main concern. With the crowds getting as large as they are, we’re doing everything we can to keep people safe.”
Admission will be $10 on Friday and $5 on Saturday before 4 p.m. and $10 after. Organizers are still seeking auction items and volunteers.
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