The weather was beautiful, and the crowds that filled Columbia's Symphony Woods for the 12th annual Wine in the Woods festival set attendance records.

Organizers at the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks were still enjoying their success when they realized that $30,000 from ticket sales from the May 15 and 16 event was missing.

"It kind of throws a shadow," said department director Gary J. Arthur, who discovered the apparent theft about a week after the festival as he was reviewing a financial report. An audit recently confirmed the missing money.

"We found the mistake. We had hoped it was a clerical error, but it didn't turn out to be," Arthur said. "I called in the police."

Arthur said that 16 people staffed the gates for the festival, which has never experienced such an incident.

Howard County police said they are investigating but as of Tuesday had nothing to report on the missing money, said spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

The event at Symphony Woods provides an annual showcase for the state's growing wine industry. For an $18 or $20 ticket this year, adult participants got the chance to stroll and picnic in the woods, sampling the wines of 10 Maryland wineries, listening to lectures and music. Children and other youths were admitted for $5. In all, about 16,000 people attended this year's festival, amounting to the best attendance for the spring celebration.

The event grossed about $275,000 in ticket sales, Arthur said.

The recreation department uses profits from the festival to pay for summer activities, including programs for low-income children.