Park still looking good for annual blues festival

Published 6:54 am Saturday, July 9, 2016

Though repairs at Cassidy Park were slightly delayed due to the city’s Fourth of July preparations, city official James Hall said the work continues.

Hall, the director of the public works department, said most of the work is thanks to the state’s workforce program that allows him to keep six people there all day. Those workers are cleaning, painting and doing other small repairs.

The state is paying those workers, but Hall said the free labor could end up benefitting the city financially, since any work on the park can count toward FEMA reimbursements. However, Hall said no funding has been approved by the federal government so far, as the city is still paying for most repairs in-house.

On Friday, a handful of men from the workforce program were painting a pavilion at the back of the park, near the creek. Near the pavilion, however, there is still a large sinkhole, in the middle of an old play area.

This is the last sinkhole in the park, and Hall said he expects to have it filled within weeks.

“I still have one left,” he said. “I have too much going in town to get my guys to get my trucks to get the clay and fill in the hole, but I hope we can get that done in the next week or two.”

Hall said city workers are still cleaning up trash and picking up street barricades following last weekend’s holiday parade and fireworks display.

“We still haven’t picked up from that yet, so we’re about a week behind cleaning up everything,” he said.

Once that final sinkhole is filled, Hall said the city would allow volunteers to come into the park to lend a hand in the repairs. That said, Hall pointed out there won’t be a lot left to do to fix up the park. He said the workforce crews have been making many of the little repairs that volunteers could otherwise do.

“That took a lot of the volunteer work out,” he said.

Even so, there is still plenty for the city crews to tackle.

First, Hall would like to begin asphalt repairs. Until recently, some of the city’s equipment has been getting repaired. Those repairs are finished now, however, so he expects paving to begin shortly.

“I got my asphalt packer back,” he said. “So hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll be doing some patching.”

Those patches will include the area near the park’s entrance as well as the portion of the driving trail where the covered bridge used to be.

Hall will also need to spread out some of the remaining piles of sand and remove some of the debris, although the debris piles are considerably smaller than they were.

“There’s getting less by the week,” he said. “And we hauled off a lot of the sand.”

In addition, the smaller stage near the rear of the park is now repaired and, Friday, the lights on the stage were turned on.

After the March 11 flooding, the city leaders expressed some concern that the annual Blues and Heritage Festival might need to be relocated. But with most of the debris gone, all but one hole filled and the electricity once again turned on, festival supporters believe the park is well on track to host the September event.

Malinda White, one of the festival’s founders, said she had no doubt it would be ready by September.

“It never has entered my mind,” she said. “You have no idea where we were five years ago when we started this … There was no stage, there was no grass or anything at that park at this time that first year. It was all in progress and we were pushing it hard.”

White said she’s now preparing for next year’s event. She pointed out that plans for the event happen so far in advance, that cancelling the event or moving it to another location is not feasible and wise.

“It’s hard to draw that back in once it’s out there,” White said, explaining that after an event is held for years at a specific site, it tends to be associated around that site.

“(The festival) is something we’re going to be building on for years and years to come, hopefully. Long after I am dead.”

White praised the city’s workers and leadership for their rapid response to the issue.

“We’re really happy with the city’s progress, and we’re thankful for their hard work and the time and the devotion to getting it done.”

White said RV camping is looking likely, primitive camping has been approved and ticket sales for that are going strong.