West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association Board Member Gary Connell suggests a plan to move the food vendors from the North Spring Street parking lot to Jawbone Park at Tuesday's Consolidated Public Works Board meeting.

Consolidated gives nod to moving vendors to Jawbone Park for tentatively scheduled 2021 Strawberry Festival

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Consolidated Public Works Board voted to proceed with a plan to move vendors and live music from the North Spring Street parking lot to Jawbone Park for the 2021 West Virginia Strawberry Festival.

Gary Connell with the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board proposed the idea during the Dec. 1 Consolidated Board meeting.

“The bottom line is, we have to do something – we need to bring that festival down and use Jawbone Park for what it was built to use it for,” Connell said. “There’s a stage there, there is a sound system, it’s going to save us money and it’s also going to utilize the investment the city has put in the park. We need leadership, we need to be told how the city would like to progress.”

Connell said he has talked to City of Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold about moving the vendors for the last three years, and he believes 2021 would be the year to make the transition because Spring Street could possibly be under construction during the festival season.

“The walkway (around and through Jawbone) would be the actual concourse for the vendors, so you would always be on a concrete walkway if you were to get food, and that way if it rains, you have the ability to still get food without getting muddy,” Arnold said. “The actual area to eat, we could put underneath the pavilions and use the stage for entertainment, so you have your kids at the carnival, parents can enjoy the food being undercover if there is a rain and some shade if there is sun.”

Arnold said he thinks the proposal “just makes sense.”

Consolidated Publc Works Director Jerry Arnold

“It’s an all-around better atmosphere for the festival plus next year, as I’m sure you’ve already heard, we’re going to have Spring Street under construction, so it’s going to be hard to have anything down there,” Arnold said.

Connell said the carnival has never used the walkway of Jawbone park, and Consolidated Board member and city councilman CJ Rylands agreed.

“They back right up to the edge of Jawbone Park and the grass, but they’ve never been in Jawbone,” Rylands said. “I’ve been down there on Sunday, and I’ve seen the backside of the carnival but the whole park is unoccupied.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said he liked the idea of using the park, rather than the parking lot the vendors typically inhabit.

“When the parade is over, people could bring their lawn chairs down and set up at Jawbone Park and they can spend the afternoon, listen to music, eat at the vendors, so it just becomes a nice central location for everybody down there, and it’s a nice environment,” Skinner said. “Quite frankly, it’s a lot more attractive than back here, and it’s easier to get to because it’s much closer to where people live and where people can park, so I think this is an excellent move for the Strawberry Festival.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner

Rylands agreed with Connell and Skinner and said he thought the idea could benefit the vendors and the carnival.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rylands said. “The sound equipment is there, and if you bring the food down there, the carnival could benefit. “I always go to the food vendors, but I rarely go to the carnival. I think a lot of other people are similar, if the food vendors and the carnival are together, I think both of them will benefit.”

Connell said they don’t know if they will be able to have a festival, but if they are, he wants to start utilizing Jawbone Park.

“Now, as we all know, we’re probably going to have to downsize the festival, if we have one at all,” Connell said. “We have a lot of people with faith that say, ‘Oh, yeah we’re going to have a festival like we’re all used to.’ That’s seven months away or six-and-a-half months away, and it concerns me. I serve on the state fairs and festivals executive board, and we have hit the reset button to 2022, being told by the powers that be and the folks that actually know what’s going on in Charleston, that the health department or whoever it may be, that we’re really lucky if we get late third quarter, even fourth quarter [of 2021].”

Connell said the only negative he can think of is training people to go to one centralized location.

“The only negative I can see is, we’re going to have to train people to come down the street, and everyone goes down there,” Connell said. “Nobody stays up on the corner, everybody’s going to have to come down and be a unit, be group and stand together.”

Skinner proposed a motion to explore and move forward with moving the vendors and live music from the North Spring Street parking lot to Jawbone Park for Strawberry Festival 2021.

Rylands made the motion and board member Nancy Shobe seconded.

The board agreed to work with the WVSF board and other city officials to work out the details and explore this opportunity. The West Virginia Strawberry Festival is tentatively scheduled for May 8-16, 2021.

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