Harpswell Festival canceled due to lack of volunteers

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HARPSWELL — After a nine-year run, the Harpswell Festival has been canceled this year and it’s unlikely the event will return.

The festival would have happened July 28 at Mitchell Field. In its place, a smaller event with food, music and fireworks is planned for Labor Day weekend.

Tom Allen, the festival’s executive director, said the decision to cancel the festival was made after the Harpswell Festival Committee lost a steady stream of volunteers.

“We had some very talented and hard-working, devoted, dedicated people from the very beginning of this event, and every year we seemed to lose a few of them,” Allen said. “For every two or three people we lost, we would get one new person.”

During one committee meeting, Allen said, he asked if the remaining volunteers would be interested in continuing the festival into its 10th year. The committee decided if it could get at least six more volunteers, it would continue the festival.

But after sending e-mails to the committee’s volunteer list and advertising in the town’s local newspaper, no one responded, he said.

That’s when the committee decided to call it quits.

“Our hearts were just not in it at that point,” Allen said. “… I would say that the broader lack of participation was a little disheartening over the years and we just got tired.”

The executive director said the festival could return next year, but that would require a “serious influx” of new volunteers.

“I believe there is a core … that would be willing to step up and impart their wisdom on a new crop of volunteers,” Allen said.

The Harpswell Festival started in 2004 after the town faced a divisive proposal for a liquefied natural gas facility at Mitchell Field, the former U.S. Navy fuel depot that was conveyed to the town in 2001, the executive director said.

“The people who started the festival were looking for an event that would potentially be a lot of fun that wouldn’t be political in any way,” he said.

The festival’s tagline was “food, fun and fireworks,” and it was always accompanied by a small parade.

“That first year pulled together a wide variety of people across town,” Allen said. “I don’t think it healed things, but it was a good start.”

He said the other purpose of the festival was to advertise Mitchell Field to potential business developers and other groups.

Using remaining funds from the festival’s revenue account, Allen said the festival’s nonprofit business entity has scheduled a pot-luck event at Mitchell Field with music and fireworks on Aug. 31.

The field is seeing use from other groups, he noted, including Fishing Families of Harpswell and Harpswell Coastal Academy, both of which are co-sponsors of this year’s Shore Dinner fundraiser on Aug. 17.

In addition, the town has been holding Thursday night concerts at the Harpswell Bandstand this summer, which was conveyed to the town in June.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.