Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Community Festivals - Think Sustainability!

The following article was posted in the North Platte Telegraph on March 4. It tells about a wonderful historical event that is being revived by North Platte's Lincoln County Historical Museum. That is a good thing. What makes me sad is that the folks down in Hayes Center, which had hosted the event for many years, were put in a position to have to make an end of the annual celebration. Read, and I'll comment below.
Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 3:00 am

By Heather Johnson hjohnson@nptelegraph.com

A royal buffalo hunt is making a comeback in Nebraska.

The Lincoln County Historical Museum plans to reinvent the “Grand Duke Alexis Rendezvous” during Rail Fest Sept. 19-21. The idea is to commemorate the 1872 visit to the U.S. by Alexei Alexandrovich, otherwise known as the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. “The U.S. was at the height of popularity with the Russian government at that time,” said Jim Griffin, museum curator. “Having Alexis visit was a way to cement diplomatic relations.”

A buffalo hunt, not far from Camp Hayes Lake, was organized to entertain the duke. Some of the more famous people involved in the adventure will be portrayed by actors during the rendezvous.

Among them will be Steve Alexander, of Monroe, Mich., who has been featured as General George Armstrong Custer in numerous TV shows and films. Kirk Shapland, of Dighton, Kan., will play William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and Jahnis Abelite, of Arlington, Wash., will portray the duke.

Griffin said the actors will dress in period attire as they talk about the buffalo hunt and characters they represent. A series of lectures about topics such as Lakota story telling are also planned.

Griffin is hoping to offer a guided bus tour to the hunt site and to put on a play titled, “Fate Worse Than Death.” It is a comedy.

“The play is loosely based on the kind [of show] Buffalo Bill was in back east,” Griffin said. “It starts out with tall tales, and the audience is asked to hiss and boo at the characters.”

The original rendezvous was put on by Lions Club members and staged about 12 miles northeast of Hayes Center. It ran from 2000-2010 but was canceled in 2011 due to a lack of volunteers.

“We lost several members that were good workers,” said co-coordinator Doris Vlasin. “We just couldn’t seem to generate enough interest in the community to keep it going.”

The cost of the re-enactment also became a burden.

“We couldn’t charge admission fees because it was at Camp Hayes Lake on Nebraska Game and Parks Commission property,” Vlasin said. “It was expensive to do on our own, but I loved every minute of it and hated to give it up.”

Griffin has pursued grant funding to offset the cost of hosting the re-enactment in North Platte and is also seeking sponsorships. There will be an admission charge of $5 for anyone 12 or older. Those younger than 12 will be let in for free.

“It’s important to remember the hunt because of all the larger aspects that surrounded it,” Griffin said. “Not only does it show that Nebraska has been involved in world events, but it also demonstrates the interest in the west by Europeans, the end of the large buffalo hunts and the downfall of the Native American way of life.”
Note the quote in bold and italics - "we couldn't charge admission because it was on Nebraska Game and Parks Commission property."

The first priority of any event (I know... we do them because it's fun, it highlights our history, it brings economic development to our community, etc.) MUST be to be sustainable! Land owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is essentially land owned by the people of Nebraska. The NGPC has no qualms about charging people admission by requiring a state park sticker. Why would they jeopardize the sustainability of a wonderful celebration like this by not allowing the community to charge admission?

North Platte's own Rail Fest faces this same dilemma. The cornerstone of the celebration is the tours through Bailey Yard. However, since the buses are sponsored by Union Pacific Railroad, they aren't allowed to charge admission for them. Now I'm as cost conscious as the next tourist, and love seeing all the FREE stuff, but I also want a quality event to go to year after year. If you don't make any money, you won't be around long, because celebrations cost a LOT to keep going.

The folks over at the Greeley Irish Festival (which, by the way, is the same weekend as the Grand Duke Alexis Hunt reenactment and North Platte's Rail Fest) have it right. The festival area is fenced, and you pay an admission at the gate and receive a wristband. If you want to camp in the adjacent campground, you pay a (reasonable) fee. If you want to drink beer (It's an Irish Festival, after all!), or eat, you pay for it. Many of the food vendors are local organizations doing fundraising, but there are also commercial food and souvenir vendors. A perfect combination for lots of variety. With a sustainable business model, I foresee the Greeley Irish Festival being around for a long time.

I hope the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (and other sponsors) realizes that they need to be community partners with the resources they have, and allow communities and private individuals to earn enough money to be sustainable to keep offering great events and services for visitors and locals alike.

And please, if you're planning a community festival, think sustainability first! We want your wonderful event to be around for a long time.

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