By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Police at the 87th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival will be cracking down on portable containers found to be holding anything on a list of banned items.
Winchester police Capt. Douglas Watson urged those planning to attend the festival to leave bags, backpacks, handbags and purses behind if they want to attend events without being stopped for a search from private security guards.
The festival begins Friday with the Bloomin' Wine Festival and continues through May 4.
The list of banned items includes large backpacks, alcohol, knives or anything else that could be a weapon, bottles, cans, thermoses, coolers, animals (except those providing services for their owners), food, beverages and noisemakers. Diaper bags containing items needed for infants will be allowed, but are subject to searches.
The ban applies to the Bloomin' Wine Fest, Weekend in the Park, all tent events and the coronation.
"This is new, and we really want to get the word out to the public about this in order to keep some people from getting delayed from getting into the events or any inconveniences people have taking bags back to their vehicles that are prohibited or not allowed," Watson said at a news conference Wednesday.
Watson there was no specific problem in Winchester or other jurisdictions that led police and festival officials to cast a wary eye on bags and containers.
"This is a national trend," Watson of bag searches. "Any time you have large groups of people, you worry about them becoming a target."
John Rosenberger, the festival's executive director, said bag checks were conducted last year at the wine festival, four days after the bombing of the Boston Marathon shook the nation.
The searches "didn't really cause any backups or problems," Rosenberger said.
"It's for the public good and the public safety," Rosenberger added. "Everybody knows the age we live in."
Rosenberger estimated that as many 200,000 attended last year's festival at its height on Saturday afternoon. He said crowds of 10,000 on Thursday and 50,000 on Friday are typical.
Watson said motorists should be aware that traffic on the 200 and 300 blocks of Miller Street will become one-way only going west to Handley Avenue from Valley Avenue on May 2 beginning at 8 a.m. The 200 and 300 blocks of Whitlock Avenue will also become one-way going east from Handley Avenue to Valley Avenue. Normal two-way traffic patterns for both streets will resume at midnight Saturday.
Watson said drivers will be able to reach the festival grounds only from Cork Street at either Maple Street or Bridgeforth Drive. Drivers will not be able to reach the park northbound from Lowry Drive and University Drive.
The Virginia State Police and Frederick County Sheriff's Office have announced they will be conducting a joint traffic enforcement project on Monday that will include roving patrols intended to encourage seat belt usage and discourage speeding and other dangerous behavior.
Lt. Warren Gosnell of the Sheriff's Office traffic division said the festival is an opportunity to display "the beauty and genuine hospitality Frederick County and the Shenandoah Valley have to offer."
But it's also a reminder of the importance of traffic safety for drivers throughout the area, he said.
Those seeking more information about parking, street closings, detours and other traffic matters are encouraged to call special police hotlines at 545-4737 or 545-4738. The hotlines will be open on May 1 and May 2 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and May 3 from 8 a.m. until noon. Police say they do not want anyone to call the emergency communications center with traffic and parking questions.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org