Festival's future appears to be grim

March 02, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

The Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, which has attracted thousands of people in conjunction with Antietam National Battlefield's annual remembrance of the mid-September Civil War battle, may not be held this year because of financial and personnel difficulties, according to members of the group that runs the festival.

"We just can't do the festival that the community has become accustomed to," said Skip Lushbaugh, 57, of Sharpsburg. She is one of the half-dozen members of the Sharpsburg Heritage Society, which has organized the annual event for the last 12 years.

"Logistically, financially, physically, we just can't do it," Lushbaugh said Monday night.

Sharpsburg Mayor Hal Spielman read a letter during the Sharpsburg Town Council meeting Monday from Ben Arndt, chairman of the heritage group, saying the group would not run the festival this year. In his letter, Arndt cited a "steadily rising difficulty in staging the festival."


Spielman said after the meeting that the town had given the group $3,000 a year in past years, and last year it provided another $2,000 for police supervision. But he heard that due to grant sources drying up, the group had run into difficulties.

Sharpsburg Town Councilman Jeffery Saylor said there could be a secondary impact on local clubs if the festival isn't held. He said he works with a local Lion's Club chapter, which uses the festival as its main fund-raiser, and he knows of others that do the same.

"This is news to us," Saylor said Monday night.

Spielman said "it'll be a loss to the town" if the festival isn't held this year. Due to rain, the festival was not well attended last year, but Spielman estimated at least 3,000 people attended two years ago.

There have been as many as 135 vendors at the festival, which also offers live music and living history performers, Lushbaugh said. The festival shuts down a portion of West Main and South Mechanic streets.

In 1996, the group was granted nonprofit status in hopes of being able to obtain more grants, Lushbaugh said, but last year a state arts group only provided $500. Most of the funds came from the town of Sharpsburg, vendor sales and program book advertisements.

At the group's February meeting, members decided they couldn't hold the festival at full strength, if at all, Lushbaugh said.

"It's gotten out of our hands. Five or six people can't put this thing on," Lushbaugh said. "I sincerely hope somebody can pick it up and go with it. ... I would be sorry to see it fall flat."

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