With lagging volunteerism prompting the plug to be pulled on this year’s Camp Verde Cornfest, the community’s attention is now focused on the town’s longest-running weekend event: Fort Verde Days.
As was the case with Cornfest, Fort Verde Days too is challenged by a dwindling pool of volunteers. Event organizers say they need about 50 volunteers to make the event run smoothly. As of right now, they have about half that.
Despite that, no one has pushed the panic button. Fort Verde Days will continue this year, just as it has for more than 60 years. But it’s likely to be scaled back from a three-day weekend celebration to just two days.
The emphasis on community volunteerism for such events as Fort Verde Days, Cornfest and the Spring Heritage Pecan and Wine Festival has reached the same kind of breaking point as was experienced when Town Hall did all the heavy lifting to stage them. In that era, Camp Verde’s town government was spending upwards of $600,000 annually for these events. The events cannibalized about 40 percent of town employees’ time in the month prior to each event. Both fiscally and physically, there came a time when the folks at Town Hall said they’d had enough.
Camp Verde Promotions came to the rescue with a volunteer force to keep these events alive, and now the same basic pool of volunteers has been asked to go to the well too many times.
If Camp Verde is to succeed in keeping these events alive, and not suck the life out of its volunteers in the process, the community has to invest in public-private partnerships.
Two good case studies of this concept are Cottonwood’s Verde River Day and Thunder Valley Rally.
Verde River Day will celebrate its 30th year this September. In its earliest days, the event was a marriage of resources between Dead Horse Ranch State Park and The Verde Independent. Over the years, different groups stepped up to help and the various Verde River advocacy groups deserve much of the credit for helping the event grow and prosper. Today, the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce works hand in hand with the staff at Dead Horse Park for the planning and organization of the event.
With Thunder Valley Rally, there are some definite parallels between the City of Cottonwood’s financial commitment to the event as there previously was with Camp Verde’s fiscal involvement with its community celebrations. As just as was the case in Camp Verde, Cottonwood’s city council began to question the wisdom of being the money bag for a weekend party.
Today, the City of Cottonwood remains heavily invested in Thunder Valley Rally, both in terms of the up-front costs to put on the event as well as the staff time to pull it off. But it’s a shared effort, and a shared financial commitment. The city works with a local committee that produces hundreds of volunteer man hours over the course of the year to make TVR happen. Further, there is a clear understanding between the city and the TVR Committee that the financial burden for TVR is a two-way street. The city is willing to finance the up-front costs for Thunder Valley Rally, but it expects to see a return on that investment. There were years when Cottonwood City Hall was left holding the bag when all the bills were paid on TVR. That’s no longer the case. While the city experienced a meager .06-percent cost recovery on a $55,000 investment with the 2015 Thunder Valley Rally, last year’s event saw the city recoup 94 percent of its up-front costs, and that’s not counting the sales tax bonanza TVR generates.
There are opportunities in Camp Verde to get over this hump with its special events. What the community’s leadership needs to remember is that it’s not one or the other – government vs. volunteers – to make such events successful, but a marriage of the two. Further, it’s not Town Hall’s responsibility to carry the financial burden for the success of these events. If the town is going to invest in Fort Verde Days, Cornfest or the Spring Heritage events, there needs to be a plan in place to help the town recoup its costs.
Remember, these are community events. It takes the entire community to make them successful.
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