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Williamsport's festivals won't be merged

February 01, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT - Williamsport residents struck down an idea to merge the town's annual Williamsport Days festival and the Harvest Hoedown into one October festival during a packed town meeting Thursday night.

Mayor James G. McCleaf II had suggested combining the events to alleviate a volunteer shortage, avoid competition with Hagerstown's Augustoberfest and provide relief from the overwhelming heat that has dogged Williamsport Days, a late-August event, in recent years.

Instead, a group of more than 30 residents and community leaders pledged to pool the resources behind the events to reinvigorate both while maintaining two separate festivals.

"I think if we join forces, we can accomplish what both sides are looking for and still have the opportunity to serve the community and the food bank and the churches," Williamsport Days organizing committee member Jimmy Black said.

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The town will hold an organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the basement of the Williamsport library to flesh out suggestions and begin planning for Williamsport Days, which is back on the calendar for Aug. 30 and 31, McCleaf said.

Those who opposed merging the events stressed the importance of preserving tradition and argued that one event would bring in less revenue for community groups.

"Two events allows people to spend money two different times, and that money benefits many, many different organizations," said Teri Leiter, president of the Williamsport Rotary, which voted 12-1 against merging the events.

Williamsport Days began as C&O Canal Days in 1977 and was renamed when the Town Council took over its organization in 2006.

A large group initially expressed interest in helping with the event, but the organization ultimately fell into the hands of only about five people, McCleaf said.

"When it comes to where the rubber meets the road, we just don't have enough wheels on it," he said.

The work has overwhelmed the town's staff and office space throughout July and August since the town took over, he said.

Several people at the meeting suggested creating one large committee to run both Williamsport Days and the Harvest Hoedown, an October event, and having leadership responsibility rotate among community groups.

Curt Gaul, a National Park Service ranger with the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said the park would look into participating in the Harvest Hoedown in addition to Williamsport Days.

The park had been in favor of moving the event to October because interest in the canal is higher in the fall and August is too hot for historical re-enactors to wear wool costumes, he said.

The group also discussed giving 50 percent of the vendors' fees from Williamsport Days to the food bank, which is facing a greater demand and fewer funds, according to the Rev. Greg Martin, treasurer of the Williamsport Area Ministerium.

The Ministerium has hosted the Harvest Hoedown for about 15 years, Martin said. Last year, that event brought in 6,000 pounds of food and raised about $8,000 after expenses, but this lasted only a few months, he said.

Williamsport Days, which had 146 vendors last year, raised about $6,000 for the community, McCleaf said. So far, 39 vendors have signed up and paid to be included this year, he said.

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