Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson and Rhododendron Festival President Brandi Hamon discuss plans for this year’s Rhody carnival at the Jefferson County commissioners meeting Monday. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson and Rhododendron Festival President Brandi Hamon discuss plans for this year’s Rhody carnival at the Jefferson County commissioners meeting Monday. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Rhododendron Festival carnival cleared for Port Townsend’s Memorial Field

Final decision hinges on the weather for May event

PORT TOWNSEND — The 2019 annual Rhododendron Festival Association’s Funtastic carnival will be held downtown at Memorial Field from May 16 through May 19, depending on the weather.

Jefferson County commissioners Kate Dean and Greg Brotherton voted Monday to allow organizers to use the downtown sports field, the only lighted playing field in Jefferson County that is used extensively for school athletics and for recreational leagues. It has gone through extensive renovations over the past two years.

The commissioners said, however, that the county public works staff would have the final say in whether the field is dry enough to support the large trucks and rides. If it is determined that field conditions are not acceptable, then an alternate location would be used.

The other sites being considered are the playfield at Mountain View Commons and the Jefferson Transit Park & Ride on Haines Street.

Commissioner David Sullivan cast a no vote, saying that Memorial Field’s main purpose is for sporting activities, not for carnivals. It is a position he has taken in the past.

“I feel like we are at the same place as we were last year,” Sullivan said.

He noted that heavy equipment damages the field regardless of the weather. He said many people put in time and money for the irrigation system, lights and new fencing and felt it was the county’s responsibility to take care of it.

“I think it’s tough sometimes when it comes time for change, but often community events face this and volunteer boards face this,” Sullivan said. “It is no fun to see the end of something.

“It’s time for this to change in some way,” he said. “If that means moving out of downtown, so be it. If it means funding it a different way, that maybe needs to be the focus of the conversation. It’s something that really doesn’t fit Memorial Field.”

Brotherton echoed Sullivan’s concerns and said he knows the Rhody organization has been working all year to find a solution.

“I trust staff to evaluate the damage that this may do to Memorial Field and I agree the prime use is the most important use,” Brotherton said. “I’d love to see some kind of hybrid option that mitigates the damage this year and work to a new solution.”

Jana Hoffman Allen of Port Townsend presents the Jefferson County commissioners with a display of rhododendrons Monday. She said that to the children of Port Townsend the Rhody Festival is “right up there with Christmas; it’s pretty close.” She urged commissioners to find a solution for the carnival that would keep it downtown. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Jana Hoffman Allen of Port Townsend presents the Jefferson County commissioners with a display of rhododendrons Monday. She said that to the children of Port Townsend the Rhody Festival is “right up there with Christmas; it’s pretty close.” She urged commissioners to find a solution for the carnival that would keep it downtown. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Memorial Field has been home to the carnival for the past 15 years. Tractor-trailer rigs carrying large, heavy amusement rides have caused the soil to become compacted and created permanent depressions in the field. In the past several years, rainy weather leading up to the festival compounded the damage, creating tire rutting by the heavy rigs that was expensive to fix and displaced other users for more than two months.

Public Works Director Monte Reinders said it took $15,000 to aerate and top dress the field after the event in 2017 and they are still finding damage.

Last year, the county commissioners voted that 2018 would be the last year the carnival would be allowed to use Memorial Field. The county partnered with the festival association board, the city and other stakeholders to secure a suitable location for 2019 and beyond. However, a group solution to hold the carnival in the downtown streets was rejected due to fire access and public safety concerns.

Dean, Reinders, Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson and Rhododendron Festival President Brandi Hamon have been in discussions for the past several months to secure a location for the carnival.

“We don’t want to damage the field,” said Hamon. “It is an important part of the community. We’ve worked with everybody here, and with the fair board, Main Street. It’s been a collective effort.

“We need to find a permanent solution,” she continued. “This carnival pays for everything: the grand parade, the kiddie parade and the pet parade. That’s why I’ve worked hard over the past few years, only to get nowhere. It’s because we have to have a carnival. I have great hopes that we will find a solution.”

Eight members of the public addressed the commissioners on the matter.

Danny Milholland, a local events organizer, summed up the general feeling of those couple dozen people who attended the meeting.

“The spirit of Rhody is our spirit, this is us,” he said.

The Funtastic carnival is part of the Rhody Festival, the highlight of which is the Grand Parade that attracts thousands to the community. Other traditional festival events include trike races, the pet parade, kiddie parade, hair and beard contest, the Jim Caldwell Golf Tournament and the Running of the Balls.

________

Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jmcmacken@peninsuladailynews.com.

Funtastic carnival workers begin setting up the Umbrella Ride, one of the attractions last year for Rhody Week festivities. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Funtastic carnival workers begin setting up the Umbrella Ride, one of the attractions last year for Rhody Week festivities. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

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