COLUMBIA — As families began gathering in Flat Branch Park for Thursday's Twilight Festival, one of the only visible signs that this was the final fest lay on a small table in the middle of the grass. There, volunteers handed out pieces of a cake emblazoned with "Thank You for 19 Years of the Twilight Fest" in red frosting.
At sites all over downtown, crowds of people soaked in the last evening festival. In the park, children enjoyed puppet and magic shows, while some played in the creek or had their faces painted. And outside the Boone County Courthouse, others watched fire dancers and a variety of musical performances.
It was Emily Ryan's first and final experience with Twilight.
"I think it's sad it's going away," Emily Ryan said. "It seems like a nice thing to have."
But the Columbia Community Association, which runs the festival, has said it is a drain on resources. The shift in festival attendees from mostly families to teenagers has also hurt the economic boost once felt by downtown businesses on Twilight nights.
A few blocks east of Flat Branch Park, there was evidence of the demographic shift. Groups of teenagers filled the sidewalks and lay on the grass in Peace Park. They come here every Thursday, not just because their friends are there, but because the Twilight Festival has always marked the beginning and end of their summers.
"I was two when I started going," said Megan Accola, 14. "Me and my grandma used to come here."
Her friends agree that the festival is more than just an excuse to go downtown.
"It just feels like home," Billy Thompson, 16, said.
After Thursday night, Columbia has no more Twilight fests to look forward to. But these teens all vowed to keep coming downtown every Thursday and continue the social tradition.
"Every last one of my friends was mad," Jamal Towson said of Twilight's end. "It's not going to stop people."
Not only are the teens upset over the decision to discontinue the fest, they also think the city has not provided an adequate explanation. Matt Joyce, 18, said he and his friends are seeking answers and asking for a reconsideration.
"A lot of us are trying to get a petition together," he said. "It's pretty much a) why is it going away for good, and b) is there anything we can do."
Joyce also cited a Facebook movement to save the Twilight Festival. A group page on the Web site titled "Petition to Keep Twilight Festival" has over 400 members and urges people to contact city officials to help keep the festival around.
One of the unique things about the Thursday night events, Joyce said, is the ability to connect with people. In past weeks, he has run into several friends with which he had lost touch. Without a common place and time to gather, he said he would have missed out on seeing them again.
Bethany Tunmire, 13, started attending the Twilight Festivals because her friends were all there, and now she uses it as an outlet to make new friends.
"I like meeting new and random people downtown," Tunmire said. "On other nights, there aren't any people here. It's gonna suck (when Twilight is gone). We'll just hang up signs that say "Twilight," but we'll probably get in trouble."
For now, the teens plan to conduct business as usual next Thursday and to fight to keep Twilight next summer.