“They were overjoyed with the hospitality,” Smith said of the people being honored at the 2016 festival. “They were overcome with emotion at the memorial service. They were just excited to be part of it.”
Although some estimates pegged the number of people in town during the 10-day festival at between 200,000 and 300,000, Festival Board Chairman Scott Klaassen said the only accurate count they had was from the people keeping track with clickers at the ship tours.
“Tens of thousands of people toured the ships,” he said.
Lt. Aaron Urbanawiz, commander of Coast Guard Sector Field Office Grand Haven, said more than 31,000 people toured the three U.S. Coast Guard ships and the Canadian Coast Guard border patrol boat. All four were docked along the seawall at or near Escanaba Park.
The Coast Guard Port Security crew had almost 5,000 people look at their boats.
“It’s great for us to help educate the public,” Urbanawiz said. “The taxpayers get to see where their money is going and it’s a great recruiting tool for me.”
Urbanawiz said it got a little crazy this year coordinating helicopters from three air stations as well as the Canadian helicopter. Three helicopters flew over Escanaba Park during Friday’s National Memorial Service in honor of 100 years of Coast Guard aviation, which was the theme of this year’s festival.
Orange helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard came from Detroit, Muskegon or Traverse City, depending on the day, Urbanawiz said. There was also a yellow helicopter from Cape Cod and a red helicopter from Canada.
“I love the whole festival,” Urbanawiz said. “Being in the Coast Guard, it’s really great being in the Tri-Cities. They really embrace us. And then they throw us a really big celebration every year around the Coast Guard birthday.”
Smith said this year’s event was “just short of spectacular.”
“There were greater numbers of people and lots of positive feedback,” he said. “The stores were filled. The streets were crowded and the entertainment was superb.”
Smith said the waterfront entertainment was probably the best consecutive nights of entertainment experienced at the festival in a long time. He was also enthusiastic about the increased success of the waterball competition — back for its second year — and the new cardboard boat race.
Smith said he’s taking a trip in a couple of weeks to check out some other possibilities to “freshen up the festival,” but wouldn’t say what they were.
Klaassen said the carnival had record attendance. A downtown power outage Wednesday night didn’t cause any problems for the carnival because its equipment operates off its own generators, he said.
With the crowds came an increased police presence, but Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said, overall, it was a safe and enjoyable festival.
There were 544 calls for local police service from July 29 through Aug. 7, Hawke said. That included 49 medical emergencies, 51 lost/found incidents, two lost and then found children, 29 property damage crashes, two car crashes with injuries, 37 disturbance or disorderly person calls, one robbery, six fights, 64 traffic complaints and “many intoxicated people downtown on Saturday night.”
Hawke said that 42 vehicles were impounded — mostly for blocking emergency and parade routes.
There were 46 arrests for crimes including liquor violations, disorderly conduct, drug possession, assault, trespassing, drunken driving and other driving offenses.
“The crowds for the parade and fireworks were as large or larger than in previous years,” Hawke said.
Coast Guard Station Grand Haven Senior Chief Justin Olson said there were a lot more boats on the water for the fireworks this year, but everyone was respectful and there were no major incidents.
During the course of the week, there was added police presence on the water between the Coast Guard, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Marine Patrol and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Olson said the officers will meet next week to go over the details, but the number of incidents was fairly low.
The marine patrol and Ferrysburg Fire Department handled a boat fire Saturday on Spring Lake. Everyone on board was safely evacuated.
Olson said there was one medical emergency on the water, and that person was brought into the Coast Guard station where he was transferred to an ambulance.
There were several minor breakdowns, mostly on Lake Michigan.
“It seemed like most of the people we had contact with — if there was drinking on board — had designated drivers,” Olson noted.
Ottawa County Marine Patrol Sgt. Cal Keuning said Saturday was a good day. There were no arrests that day, and two dive calls turned out to be unfounded.
Three Ottawa County boats were stationed at Smith’s Bayou on Spring Lake, where an estimated 300 boats were rafted together. The biggest issue there was occasional noise complaints, Keuning said.