• A band plays at the Tailgate Tavern during Parker Days in June 2018.

After taking two years off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parker Days festival will return to the town in 2022 with a smaller, more local focus.

The event will have one fewer stage than previous festivals, will only be marketed to Douglas County residents and won’t include a parade or car show, said TJ Sullivan, the CEO of the Parker Chamber of Commerce. It will also be one day shorter than in years past.

“It seems a lot of times that the job of a leader with such a big event is to make it bigger, bigger, bigger and now our mission seems to be to right-size Parker Days,” Sullivan told the town council in a Dec. 6 meeting.

The decision came after Sullivan, who started with the chamber in August, heard dozens of comments about the event from residents, business owners and town council members, he said.

“When I started this job, I was bombarded immediately from every side with feedback on Parker Days,” he said. “Parker Days is obviously a hugely important tradition to this community.”

In 2019, the last year the event was held, organizers estimate that about 250,000 to 300,000 people attended the festival. Sullivan said his team would be comfortable with reducing that by about 15% or 20%.

“While Parker Days will never be a small event, it does not need to get out of control,” Sullivan said in an interview. 

The event is hosted by the Parker Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a nonprofit organization housed within the Parker Chamber of Commerce. 

There will also be an increased emphasis on safety at the 2022 event with added lighting towers, security cameras and fencing.

“We really want to make this more of a Parker event and less of a regional madhouse that some people say it became over the course of years,” Sullivan said. 

The plan is for the festival to have three stages: a main stage, a community stage and a demonstration stage for things like cooking presentations.

For music, the event will feature more local bands with a focus on fun, upbeat party music. The chamber foundation plans to work with TailGate Tavern to incorporate their stage and music as well, Sullivan said. Organizers are also adding a silent disco for the festival.

All carnival rides, including those for young children, will be located at Carnival Hill, north of O’Brien Park. The carnival will shut down at 10:15 each night instead of midnight. 

The Mainstreet festivities will also be limited, stretching from O’Brien Park to Pine Drive instead of reaching past the PACE Center, Sullivan said. 

While people from outside the community are welcome at the event, organizers won’t dedicate as much money to marketing to those outside town for the 2022 event. In the past, marketing efforts have stretched as far as Nebraska, Sullivan said.

“I want people to see their neighbors and friends and local folks,” he said. “And if that means a little less revenue from the carnival I’m OK with that.”

The event is scheduled to take place from June 10-12, pending the permit process with the town. 

Updates on the event will be posted to the website ParkerDaysFestival.com beginning at the end of January.

“We realize with a festival this size it’s impossible to please everybody 100%,” Sullivan said. “But hopefully, having taken a few years off due to COVID, I hope we’re making some moves that will make this festival more of an asset and less of a stressor on the town and the businesses.”