Cool Down in Downtown, which has marked the end of summer in Lenoir City for the past decade, drew businesses, civic groups, churches and residents to Central Park to sample homemade ice cream and determine which was best.

Zack Cusick, Lenoir City Parks and Recreation program coordinator, said the event has seen growth over time. In fact, 12 vendors stepped up to the challenge of providing free ice cream samples for nearly 600 attendees.

“It’s been going for at least 10 years now,” Cusick said. “A downtown group started it, and then that group kind of disbanded, and we took it over and just kept going and going with it, but it seems to grow every year. That’s kind of why we moved it down to this space now because we needed more room for everybody to come to the event, especially with the great weather we’re having.”

Cool Down took place in Central Park this year instead of its usual downtown parking lot setting.

Though the event has grown and ice cream flavors may change every year, Cusick pointed to the event’s laid-back ambiance that allows the community to connect.

“I think it’s just because it’s a fun, relaxing atmosphere,” he said. “You can bring the whole family to it, and all the groups that participate really get into it and they’ll have more decorations on their tent or try to add special toppings to their ice creams just to be fun and have a good time with it.

“It’s just a fun homemade ice cream contest through civic groups or businesses or churches or clubs or anything to come out and reach out to the community and have a little ice cream and kind of put the cherry on top to the end of the summer,” he added.

Attendees were snagged free samples to determine the contest’s winner, and the contest also provided invaluable face time for local businesses and groups.

“It’s great PR for any kind of business or local church or any kind of civic group that wants to get out into the community because people love ice cream, so they’re going to come by and sample ice cream, that gives them a couple seconds to interact with the community while they come by and try it and kind of get the whatever group or business they’re with to get the good PR with everybody,” Cusick said.

Cusick’s observations rang true among vendors, such as Shauna Oakley with Select Physical Therapy in Lenoir City. To Oakley, Cool Down was about “really just getting out into the community and meeting all of the people and having a fun night.”

The business offered attendees its own “Select’s Strawberry Delight” flavor.

“One of our patients told us about it and said that it was a fantastic event to come to, a lot of fun,” Oakely said. “And we said, ‘You know what? That sounds like something we want to do’.”

Oakley shared Cusick’s sentiment on the uplifting atmosphere the contest invokes.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It is so good. I mean, what’s not to smile about? Ice cream and sunshine. It’s very well-organized. You know, I was so surprised to hear how many people came out. The organizers told me it was close to 500 or 600 people that are coming out. Isn’t that amazing?”

The wide variety of ice cream samples also allowed attendees to expand their palate.

“I thought it was quite unique and astonishing how so many businesses can get out and get together as a community and form such a nice, warm thing going on, especially for the kids,” Maria Gonzalez, attendee, said. “I’m really simple with my ice cream, so coming here, I’m learning new flavors that I never would’ve tried before so it really puts you out there to get out of your comfort zone and see what you like.”

Graham and Cook Insurance took home the “Silver Spoon” award with its variety of butter pecan, strawberry, dark chocolate peppermint, cookies and cream and chocolate flavors.

“I thought it was a great event for Lenoir City,” Robert Scheffer, agent with Graham and Cook, said. “There were a lot of people out there. It was great to have it at the location they had it with the playground right there. I just thought it was a really good event for the whole city, and we were excited to be a part of it. Us winning was not important. It was about being in the community.”