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LEWISTON - Next weekend's Niagara County Peach Festival will become more visitor-friendly than ever before with plenty of free parking space at Artpark and free shuttle bus service between there and the festival grounds at Academy Park.
Some 50,000 to 100,000 people are expected to attend the three-day, 55th annual festival, depending on weather conditions, general Chairman Dean Beltrano said last week.
He praised Artpark officials' decision to make their parking lot available, a move that is expected to significantly alleviate the parking problems of previous years along village streets.
In addition to the games, rides, performances and contests at the Peach Festival, it will as usual be a fundraiser for hospitals, scholarship funds and other charities. Beltrano said the festival is the main fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston, which sponsors the annual event and makes charitable contributions year-round.
This year's festival will begin with youth football cheerleading competitions at 5 p.m. Friday and continue until the final round of the Peach Queen contest at 8 p.m. Sept. 9.
The festival will run from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sept. 9.
Beltrano, who is a vice president of Kiwanis as well as general chairman of the Peach Festival, said the event is "an old-fashioned festival, complete with a parade, peach shortcake, hot dogs, hamburgers, carnival rides and three days of stage entertainment."
Peaches will be provided by Singer Farms of Appleton.
The new Artpark parking and free shuttle bus service to and from the Peach Festival are considered major improvements. The parking and shuttle service are sponsored by North American Midway Entertainment and Tedesco Construction, in partnership with Artpark and the Village of Lewiston, according to the festival's parking and traffic information guide.
Traffic entering Lewiston on Center Street should follow the "free shuttle" signs, turning onto Portage Road and then to the shuttle lot, according to the guide.
"Our climate-controlled Gray Line shuttles will whisk you to the festival grounds entrance, just steps from the fun and excitement," the guide says. "When it is time to leave, the free shuttle will pick you up at the same spot and get you quickly back to your car and on the way home."
Handicapped accessible parking will be available in the Tops Market parking lot at Center and South Ninth streets, and on Center Street along the north side of the festival grounds between Eighth and Ninth streets. The shuttle bus also will provide handicapped accessible transportation at the Artpark lot.
The guide suggests that festival visitors consider using alternate routes into and out of the village to avoid traffic on Center Street during the peak times of the Friday dinner hour, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and at dinner hours on Saturday.
Tips from the parking guide include "pay close attention to signage and traffic control officers" and "get to the festival early to beat the traffic.
Major beneficiaries of this year's fundraising events will include the Jonathan "J-Mill" Miller Giving Fund, Lewiston-Porter Central School Scholarship Fund and the maternity department at Mount St. Mary's Hospital.
The J-Mill Fund honors Jonathan Miller, who was a 17-year-old senior at Lewiston-Porter High School when his SUV struck a tree Nov. 15, 2009, along Lewiston Road, killing him almost instantly.
Money for that fund will be raised through the Peach Festival's 5K fun run beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at the KeyBank branch at Fifth and Center streets. The entry fee is $20.
Randy Gorzka, co-chairman of the fun run, said: "Jonathan was particularly fond of the volunteer opportunities that he participated in to help those less fortunate. Therefore, we would like to keep his love for others, especially those in need, growing. The funds from this event will go directly to local charities that support his legacy of kindness."
Jerald I. Wolfgang, who has organized successful parades and other public events in Niagara County for many years, is chairman of the Peach Festival Advisory Committee. In addition to being chairman of this year's parade, he heads the festival's sponsorship committee, cheerleading and dance competition, and peach bake-off.
The parade will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday on Center Street and will feature prizes ranging from trophies to $400 for the best units in various categories. Prizes will be awarded at 1 p.m. Saturday on the stage in Academy Park.
The cheerleading and dance competition will take place at 5 p.m. Friday on the festival stage, with the peach dessert taste-off from 6 to 7 p.m. in the peach tent. Recipes will be judged on originality, taste and presentation. A Dance Company Showcase will be presented from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday on the Academy Park stage. There will be no judging or prizes, but donations will be collected from the audience to support the maternity department at Mount St. Mary's Hospital.
Carnival rides will be supplied by North American Midway Entertainment, which bills itself as the world's largest traveling outdoor amusement park providing rides, games and food to more than 15 million people every year at fairs and exhibitions in 20 states and four Canadian provinces.
The Niagara River Region USA Chamber of Commerce, representing Lewiston, Youngstown, Porter, Ransomville and Sanborn, said the Peach Festival is "Niagara County's oldest and largest event."
Admission is free. The schedule is:
. Friday: 5 to 8 p.m., youth football cheerleading competition; 6 to 7 p.m., peach dessert bake-off in peach tent; and 8 to 9 p.m., Peach Queen contestants' jazzercise. Contestants must be single women 17 to 21 years old, living in Niagara County.
. Saturday: 11 a.m., parade; 1 to 2 p.m., parade units on stage; 1:30 to 4 p.m., 23 Skidoo strolling the grounds; 2 to 3 p.m., Peach Fuzz contest for Niagara County boys ages 5 to 7; 3 to 4:45 p.m., Chris Glowacki and Zach Carr; 5 to 5:45 p.m., Lewiston Choraleers; 6 to 7:30 p.m., Peach Queen contest semifinals with fashion show on stage and music by Bob Volkman; and 8 to 11 p.m., "A Tribute to the King" with Terry Buchwald.
. Sunday: Noon to 3 p.m., Dance Showcase; 1:30 to 4 p.m., 23 Skidoo strolling the grounds; 3 to 5 p.m., Peach Blossom contest for Niagara County girls ages 5 to 7; 5 to 6:45 p.m., Bob Volkman Band; 7 to 7:45 p.m., McCarthy School of Dance; and 8 p.m., Peach Queen contest finals.
In the event of bad weather, the Peach Fuzz and Peach Blossom contests for children will be moved to the gymnasium in the Village Hall (the Red Brick Schoolhouse) at Onondaga and North Fourth streets.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com