Tens of thousands of people will descend upon downtown Aiken this weekend for the 37th annual Aiken's Makin', and the Aiken Department of Public Safety has already begun its preparations for the scores who will return for the two-day arts and crafts festival.
The festivities kick off at 9 a.m. on Friday, but officers will begin closing roads at 5 p.m. today, according to Lt. Jake Mahoney, a spokesman for Aiken Public Safety. The roads will reopen after the festivities end at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Mahoney said traffic patterns usually return to normal between 8 and 9 p.m. on Saturday.
Motorists will be slowed through downtown and detoured around the festival area on Park Avenue. Both westbound lanes of Park Avenue will be closed from Kershaw Street to Chesterfield Street.
One lane of eastbound through-traffic will be open during the festivities, “however, at York Street and Fairfield Street, traffic will be diverted to the south at both intersections,” Mahoney said. He emphasized that, in addition to the section of Park Avenue, there will not be any northbound or southbound traffic on Union, Fairfield or York streets.
“It's always been a very popular event for the city, and well-attended by residents and visitors from out of town,” Mahoney said.
John McMichael Jr., a co-chair for Aiken's Makin', was out with city crews on Wednesday setting up barricades and parking zones.
“It's hard to put on a number on it, but it's always in excess of 25,000 people,” he said of the festival attendance. “It could be more than that this year.”
Mahoney said parking is usually an issue at the festival, and that festivalgoers are expected to follow standard parking regulations.
“We do make allowances for a greater number of handicapped parking spots downtown,” he said. “There is no reserved parking; it's first-come, first-serve.”
In the past, the event has been held rain or shine. The National Weather Service is calling for a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday. High temperatures will be around 88 degrees with partly cloudy skies and light northeast winds at about 5 mph.
Meteorologist Dan Miller said the forecast could still change between now and then.
“It wouldn't change drastically,” he said, adding a front coming through Friday could “bump” the rain percentage up.
Mahoney advised festivalgoers to stay hydrated. Aiken Public Safety will have a strong presence not only during the event but overnight for security.
“People can be overcome by the heat spending a lot of time on their feet. Occasionally, we get a report of a lost or missing child but we locate those rapidly,” he said. “Make sure you're hydrated. If you bring pets, make sure your pets are on a leash and you also plan for their wellbeing. Be patient with the traffic and the changes in the normal traffic patterns.”
Aiken's Makin' will be held on Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no charge for admission, and free parking is available along the side streets.
For more information, visit www.aikensmakin.net.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.