The 33-year-old Fourth of July festival in Girdwood, Alaska, will probably go on as scheduled this year, organizers say. But it’s likely to look and feel different from previous years as the town tries to tame an event that’s gotten too big for its tie-dyed britches, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
“Our little baby’s become a monster,” said John Gallup, a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. “People say there’s two Forest Fairs — the one we all like that takes place in Forest Fair Park and is a celebration of crafts, and the second one that happens late at night with underage drinking and bonfires in the woods.
“It’s just kind of morphed on us and we’re trying to re-morph it back to the way it used to be.”
A trip to the Forest Fair can be like stepping into a time machine and setting the dial to 1967. You’re all but guaranteed to see peace signs and love beads as you travel the meandering dirt paths that take you through the woods and past dozens of booths, many of them manned by aging hippies selling pottery, beadwork and other crafts.
The scenery this year in this resort town 36 miles south of Anchorage will include a small army of security guards, Gallup and event organizers say.
Whether the guards will be armed or not, or whether they’ll patrol the woods 24 hours a day or just at night when the party instinct kicks in, remains to be seen.
There also will be a crackdown on campers – although whether that means no camping for anyone except fair vendors, or limited camping in areas staffed with security, also remains to be seen.
The board of supervisors and the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department want camping, partly so fair-goers don’t have to drive home if they drink too much.
Girdwood Fire Chief Bill Chadwick and event organizers don’t want camping. Chadwick thinks overnight camping invites rowdiness – and that illegal campfires invite disaster.
Chadwick said about 3,000 people camped on a 1.5-mile-long sand bar in the middle of California Creek last year. It would be hard, if not impossible, to get a fire truck in if a campfire got out of control.
Besides the threat of fire, there is the reality of drugs, alcohol and fighting, all of which kept a staff of 39 volunteers busy during last year’s fair, Chadwick said.
“We had overdoses, alcohol poisoning, assault and battery, all at the campground,” he said. “Over three days, we had, gosh, 28 EMS responses. We had a lot of alcohol abuse and drug abuse, which in past years has been mostly marijuana, but last year we had some meth and some crack and some real ugly stuff going on.”
Tom O’Malley, one of the event organizers, said organizers don’t want to open a campground this year because that’s where the trouble happens.
Banning overnight camping would send the message that it’s not an all-night party, he said. The board believes the same message can be sent by putting security guards in the campground.