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After clash, Williamsport takes over C&O Canal Days

March 22, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT

Because of a rift, the town of Williamsport has taken over a popular two-day festival, given it a new name and proposed cutting fees for participating groups.

Williamsport Days will replace C&O Canal Days, which was canceled after an organizing committee balked when the town insisted on a portion of the vendors' fees.

The date and venue won't change - Aug. 26 and 27 at Byron Memorial Park. However, the event probably will expand with help from the National Park Service, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said Tuesday.

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Last week, when a reporter told McCleaf about the cancellation - the committee announced its decision to The Herald-Mail, but not the mayor - he instantly vowed to hold a replacement event.

McCleaf said Tuesday that eight or nine groups and vendors left him messages over the weekend about joining the new event.

An ad for vendors in Tuesday's Herald-Mail sparked another 20 or so people to call Town Hall about signing up, said James R. Castle, the acting clerk/treasurer.

The Williamsport Blue Band Boosters, a steady presence at C&O Canal Days, hadn't committed to the new event as of Tuesday afternoon.

Denny Hoover, the group's treasurer and concessions chairman, said he wanted to know more details first.

The boosters' food booth at C&O Canal Days is its biggest annual fundraiser. Hoover estimated that the club takes in, after expenses, about $5,000, which helps pay for band activities. "For us, that's a big chunk of money," he said.

McCleaf said he expects the town to eliminate a $300 fee that the C&O Canal Days committee charged to nonprofit groups to set up their booths. Hoover confirmed that is the amount the boosters paid.

A $70 fee for other vendors might be cut to $50, McCleaf said.

The C&O Canal Days committee, a nonprofit group, hopes to hold its own event in the town next year, Chairwoman Elissa Slayman said Tuesday.

C&O Canal Days started in 1977.

The C&O Canal Days committee annually used proceeds from the event to buy and donate something for a local charity, nonprofit organization or the town.

In December, the town council required the committee to pay the town $20 for each vendor. The money was to used to improve the park.

McCleaf said Tuesday that the C&O Canal Days committee could have paid the $20 out of the $70 vendor fee instead of raising the fee to $90.

Councilman Jeff Cline disputed the allegation about a lack of communication, saying he talked to Slayman at the end of February.

Slayman said committee members voted unanimously at a meeting to cancel this year's event.

However, some members who didn't vote disagreed with that stance.

Committee member Bobbi Cole said Tuesday that she wanted C&O Canal Days to remain a tradition in her children's lives.

She said she was at the January meeting when committee members suggested canceling the event, but left before the vote. Her husband, Fred, who also is on the committee and missed the meeting, agrees with her, she said.

Bobbi Cole has joined the committee planning Williamsport Days.

Slayman said she wanted C&O Canal Days to survive, but she didn't vote because she was outnumbered.

"I was for pounding the street to get more money," she said.

Slayman said her husband, John, who also is on the committee, agreed with her, but also was not at the meeting.

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