GALLIPOLIS — In light of the several days of near constant rain that plagued those organizing this year’s River Recreation Festival — the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce’s annual fundraising event — several city residents expressed concern to the Gallipolis City Commissioners and other city officials about damage caused to the park by the amusement rides and other vehicles that were situated in the park throughout the rainy festival. As a result, this issue was the main topic of discussion during a special city commission meeting on Tuesday evening.
“There is no one to be blamed for what happened in the park. There was so many inches of rain in a short period of time, and there is no one to be blamed,” City Commission President Jay Cremeens said. “We’ve had good weather over the last few years, and we’ve had grass trampled down, but after a shower or two it came back up. This year is a little bit different.”
During the meeting, Cremeens reported that he invited the Gallipolis City Park Advisory Board, as well as members of the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce and members of the River Recreation Festival Committee to participate in the discussion surrounding the state of the park and what can be done to prevent further damage to the area during next year’s festival.
Gallia County Chamber of Commerce President Kyla Carpenter spoke on behalf of her organization and reported on how distraught she, as well as members of the Chamber and River Rec Committee were about the ensuing mud that came as a result of days of rain over the Fourth of July holiday.
In addition, she also thanked those who came forward after the festival to volunteer to help with the cleanup.
“It’s been heartwarming to hear that we did have a lot of volunteerism with that. We do appreciate the city and what they’ve done to repair the damage in the park. With that being said, we also felt like it was our responsibility — the extra amount of mud and damage that was done to the park,” Carpenter said. “So, on behalf of the chamber and the River Rec Committee, we do want to pay for the damages. We’ve already talked with Randy [Finney, City Manager]. We want to make sure the city is not incurring the costs to repair things to the park.”
Finney reported that, while he does not believe the city should accept the funding for the repairs from the chamber due to the massive number of people the festival brings to the city every year, he did state that the total cost to the city for the repairs to the park is at $400. Materials used in the cleanup in the amount of $350 are being donated by Bob Evans Farms, according to Finney.
The city manager further stated that while foot traffic around the park and surrounding the several tents that were set up during the festival did cause damage to the park, the amusement rides could be said to have caused the bulk of the damage to the park — damage that has already being repaired.
Finney also stated that prior to next year’s festival, officials will discuss the possibility of moving the amusement rides out of the park and onto the roadway surrounding the downtown, thereby avoiding any similar, future problems.
“We’ve already talked a little bit with everybody, and we think next we should probably move some of this out of the park — some of the rides — and not have this problem next year,” Finney said. “We’ve done this in the park since 2002, and it’s gone fairly well. We’ve had a bad year, but it will recover.”
This year’s River Recreation Festival Chairman, Ray McKinnis, was also present at Tuesday’s meeting and discussed his own concerns over what occurred in the park during this year’s River Rec Festival.
McKinnis stated that with the massive amount of unexpected rain this Fourth of July holiday, the number of “low areas” in the park where trees and their roots have since been removed, may have exacerbated the prevalence of mud at this year’s festival — a point that he hopes will be addressed by the park advisory board in the near future.
“One of the places where we are talking about over there is where a tree was down and there is a low place in the ground and it just held the water. There was no place for the water to go, and, consequently, there were a massive number of people walking through that, as well as the vehicles,” he said. “If we could some how figure out how to raise that up so water doesn’t lay in those eight or nine foot around ‘dippits,’ it will eliminate this problem for a lot of different things we have over there.”
Gallipolis resident Dottie Chestnut was also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and discussed her own concerns and suggested that the festival committee look into, once again, turning the festival into a true “river recreation” festival.
“Years ago, we had a river recreation festival. We used the river,” she said. “We didn’t have the rides, which is what the fair has. We had boat shows, we had ski shows, we had water fights with the fire departments, and those riverbanks were full of people watching the river. It just kind of seems like it’s gone away from a river recreation festival.”
Cremeens also reported to those present that he had received comments from residents to that end, and had also heard concerns about the supposed lack local vendors and civic booths at recent festivals.
McKinnis, addressing the concerns of those present, reported that during his first year of involvement with the River Recreation Festival in 1999, the committee attempted to organize a boat show, but due to a lack of cooperation by local boaters, the committee was unable to host such an event.
“No body wanted to do it, so what are you going to do,” he said.
McKinnis also reported that the committee has attempted to find a ski club that would like to participate in the festival, but there are none in the area. He also reported that, in previous years, the committee looked into organizing jet ski shows, but such an event was too cost prohibitive.
This year’s River Rec Chairman further discussed Cremeens’ comments concerning non-profit organizations and their involvement in the festival, while Carpenter reported that half of the concessionaires at this year’s festival were local.
“The last three or four groups that came to us said that the reason they’re not going to do it is because they couldn’t get volunteers to man their booth,” McKinnis said. “We always have had a local discount for non-profit, local groups to participate. This is a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce. It always has been a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce and it will always be that, but when we gave people discounts, they still couldn’t get enough people to run their booth. That’s why there are no local concessionaires or volunteer church groups or 4-H groups or high school groups. They just can’t get enough people to do it. That is the bottom line.
“We’ve got to think about what the function of the festival is and that’s to raise money for the chamber and cause the chamber to be active with the funds that they raise,” he said.
City Commission Vice-President Steve Wallis also addressed the crowd gathered at Tuesday’s meeting and discussed what he believes to be the role of the city commission in regard to the “people’s park.”
“It’s the people’s park. It’s not our park, it’s your park. We are the caretakers of that park and that’s the way I see it. It’s our duty to make sure it is presentable for you,” Wallis said. “Our goal is to bring people into this town. I know we’re putting rides and so forth in the park that keeps us from expanding out onto the roadway, but, hey, we’ve just learned a lesson. That’s okay. That’s what we do best around here is try something and learn from it,” Wallis said. “We didn’t ask for all that rain. … it’s just one of those things that popped up. We’ll work through it and it will be fine. We’ll use our park and we will continue to take care of it no matter what happens.”
At the conclusion of the discussion, Cremeens requested the park advisory board to meet at their convenience to discuss the recent events in the park and to present a recommendation to the commission.
“The city manager has made a recommendation and I think that, in light of this, we may act with the park board’s advice, that we restrict the use of amusement park rides in the park,” Cremeens said.