FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 23, 2013) -- Thousands of people flooded the beaches during Lake Fest at Lake Tholocco May 18 to officially kick off summer on Fort Rucker.

Despite a rainy start, the event at West Beach was a success and was the perfect time to showcase what Lake Tholocco has to offer Soldiers, their Families and those in the surrounding communities when it comes to summer fun, said Brian Jackson, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation program manager.

"This is pretty much the grand-opening event for us here at West Beach," he said. "This is just a good opportunity for people to come and enjoy themselves in a laid-back atmosphere, and a good chance for us to show people what we've got to offer here with outdoor recreation services and Lake Tholocco."

The festival offered free pontoon boat rides, kayak rentals, adult and children's swim, volleyball tournaments, sand castle building competitions and frozen T-shirt contests, as well as various vendors that ranged from foods to arts and crafts. There were also inflatables that children could play in like bouncy houses and a bungee basketball court.

More than nine teams participated in the volleyball tournament and 10 Families got their hands dirty in the sand castle competition. Prizes were given out throughout the day for winners of the various competitions like gift vouchers to DFMWR facilities, T-shirts, flying discs, and even $80 in DFMWR bucks to the winners of the volleyball tournament, which can be used at any of the DFMWR facilities.

Jeremy Riddle, civilian, said that he enjoys attending events like Lake Fest because it's a place that he can come with his Family and enjoy the beach without having to travel very far.

"I've lived in this area for most of my life and it's always nice to see that they have a place like this that even people that aren't associated with Fort Rucker can come visit," he said. "They've got beaches that you can lay out on, plenty of swimming areas and even water slides for the kids -- you can't really ask for much more."

Linda Rogers, military Family member, agreed and added that it's a great time for Families and friends to come together and meet new people.

"It's just nice to know that there is something like this close by that we can visit throughout the summer without having to go too far away," she said. "I never realized that there was so much out here at the lake to do, and with the amount of people that are out here today, it really feels like you're at the beach."

The festivities started off slower than usual because of the rain, but Jackson said after the skies cleared, people really started to show up and get into the summer fun.

"Throughout the event we've progressed in attendance a lot," he said. "Typically the event brings out about 3,000 people, and so far they seem pretty pleased that the weather has held out since this morning."

Jackson added that about two hours into the event, attendance had already approached 2,000 people.

With the high volume of people at the event, safety was a major concern for them, said the program manager.

"Our aquatics manager, Jon Cole, always does a fantastic job of doing immense safety briefs with his lifeguards, not only during the event, but prior," said Jackson. "The swimming areas are completely overseen by certified lifeguards."

Announcements were also made throughout the day to remind people to stay hydrated.

"This really does feel like one of the safest places you can come and enjoy time with the Family," said Riddle. "On top of all the lifeguards and people here, we're on a military installation, so you know everyone here will be taken care of and you can't really feel much safer than knowing you've got the Army in your backyard. I'm just really proud to be a part of this community because of what they've got for us here."

With summer officially in full swing, West Beach at Lake Tholocco is ready to host the needs of Soldiers, Families and civilians in the surrounding area, said Jackson.

"It's nice to see how much fun people have out here and see them enjoy the different facilities we offer here," he said. "They don't have to [travel], they can come right here, and we look forward to seeing them throughout the summer."