FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A year ago, Justin Shurley had to put on Three Rivers Festival mere weeks after becoming the event’s executive director.

This time around the executive director had the whole year to plan the event, and even though cleanup has made him pull long hours the week after, he was thrilled with the outcome.

“I think we had a great cross at every event we did, a lot of good buzz. Early signs show this could be one of our best years in a long time,” Shurley said in an interview Tuesday.

The now empty Headwaters park as it gets cleaned by Three Rivers Festival staff

While exact attendance numbers can’t be tracked, Shurley said the data from sales in Junk Food Alley and Midway help create a picture of this year’s success. He also said there are organizations in town to help extrapolate numbers from that data “in a couple of weeks.”

This year, some events returned that had been abbreviated last year due to COVID-19. Chief among them was the parade.

“That was something that I think everyone was excited about and looking forward to… It was great to be able to bring that back to the community,” Shurley said.

But the parade wasn’t quite the same experience as years prior, as the large inflatable balloons were absent. The brightly colored, bulky caricatures were staples in years past, but Shurley said they were omitted to make the parade more about featuring Fort Wayne.

Some balloons that the parade used to feature

“I know that there was a little bit of trying to get it like Macy’s Parade, but there is an aspect of trying to showcase what Fort Wayne and what Fort Wayne has to offer. So we didn’t want to do a whole lot of bringing in things from outside our community,” Shurley said.

Shurley may have just taken the reigns, but he doesn’t expect to stay on the path most traveled. He said there will be lots of brainstorming before next year and they already have ideas on how to tweak existing events and add new ones.

The cleanup is expected to finish up Thursday, just in time for Pride Fest to take over the park.