By Kim West
As the aroma of buttery popcorn and funnel cakes wafted through the humid June air and squeals of excitement and a train whistle rang through the crowd noise, the Athens Lion Club opened its 55th annual Kiddie Carnival on Thursday.
Their cheeks flushed from the heat and eagerness to be among the first to board the rides, children poured through the gates at the carnival with family members in tow carrying cameras and pushing strollers.
Lines formed quickly at the 50-cent rides, particularly the Ferris wheel, roller coaster and spinner.
Dennis Curtis, first vice president for the Lions Club, wore a broad smile, a straw hat and a bright yellow T-shirt as he sold batches of tickets and surveyed the scene.
“At 50 cents a ticket for each ride, you can’t beat that, and it goes for a good cause,” said Curtis on opening night as he predicted standing-room only attendance for Saturday. “When you can’t walk though this yard, you’ve got a good crowd.”
Club president Lee Watkins walked around the carnival grounds to ensure the rides were functioning smoothly, while incoming club president Mike Besh stood at the Ferris wheel gate and helped children settle into their seats. At least one volunteer was stationed at each ride, while several more worked in the concession stand and open-air bingo hall.
Watkins said the club has about 70 members, and it “takes all 70 plus a lot of volunteers” to operate the carnival, which was established in 1957.
Club officers said the carnival raised about $35,000 after expenses in 2012, with proceeds going toward Lions Club service projects and a $1,000 annual scholarship. This year’s scholarship was awarded to Alyssa Green, who graduated from Elkmont High School in May.
The gates are open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 3, except July 4. The carnival is located across from Athens Middle School at the corner of Forrest and Beaty streets.