A lack of volunteers threatens the future of many annual summer events in the North Country.
For events happening from late May to early September, a lack of volunteers can turn a day of fun into a faded memory.
Here are some examples around the North Country.
First: The Labor Day Celebration in Au Sable Forks. Before, the event lasted for two days. On the first day, the grounds would be crowded with both guests and volunteers. An array of games and food booths were available along with a huge bingo game in the gym, a chicken barbecue, pie roulette, dunking booth and a bounce house. On the second day, the same events would happen, along with a parade in the morning.
Today, the gathering lasts for just a day, and after the closing of Holy Name School and St. Matthews Church, the town struggles to keep its tradition going. Now, the parade runs on the first day. All of the food and game booths remain, but many of the dedicated volunteers that ran them are no longer there. People who had been running the same booths for years have either died or have become too old to help. The few people who remain struggle to recruit new volunteers.
Second: “Champ Day” in Port Henry and Moriah. Before, it was a day to recognize the folklore surrounding the alleged Lake Champlain creature Champ, and pay tribute to the more than 300 documented sightings of the creature. “Champ Day” took place on the first Sunday of August. The event included sidewalk sales, street vendors, entertainment, children’s games and pony rides, among other things.
Today, “Champ Day” has been officially discontinued after 31 years. The event ended for multiple reasons, including the recession and the Champlain Bridge closure for two years. Because of this, the town decided to put “Champ Day” on hold until the economy righted itself. The economy has been recovering, but “Champ Day” has yet to be reinstated, mainly because of a lack of volunteers.
Third: The Rouses Point Fourth of July Celebration. Before, the event lasted for a week and was known to be one of the biggest parties in the country. The festive week, founded by George Ducharme 54 years ago, once included a carnival and huge parade that contained 15 to 20 bands and brought in people from all around the country and Canada to see and participate in the fun it had to offer.
Today, the week-long event has been condensed to three days. The carnival no longer comes to town because it’s too expensive. Many of the games and food booths remain, but the annual get-together struggles to stay alive because of a lack of volunteers. A committee works diligently to keep the celebration intact, but those offering their services to help have become fewer and fewer.
Fourth: Rulfs Orchard’s Strawberry Festival. Before, the Strawberry Festival was a one day celebration that celebrated strawberries becoming ripe for the picking. The festival includes strawberry picking, a strawberry shortcake eating competition, a strawberry rhubarb pie baking competition, a number of different vendors, games and fun strawberry themed food for both children and adults.
Today, the Strawberry Festival remains successful after three years. Most of the events are the same. There’s been a few changes in terms of vendors, but, besides that, the orchard keeps the tradition they started three years ago.
How is Rulfs able to continue and even grow its popular festival? The answer is quite simple — they don’t rely on volunteers, they pay the individuals who help make the event happen.
There is nothing wrong with that, but these people are not volunteers. And, the simple fact of the matter is that many events around the North Country cannot afford to take on a paid staff.
What it really boils down to is a matter of civic pride and civic duty. These events are not only a source of summertime enjoyment, they also are economic engines that fill our main streets with people looking to spend money. People that oftentimes fall in love with the area and return to spend money or purchase homes here.
So, there is a much bigger picture here when it comes to volunteerism. It is an integral part of the fabric of our communities. Without it, they may also become just a faded memory — going the way of so many celebrations, festivities and events throughout the region.