Haines Junction mayor backs bluegrass bylaw

Kluane Bluegrass Festival organizers say they never felt welcome in Haines Junction. But village Mayor George Nassiopoulos argues council tried to accommodate the popular festival.

Kluane Bluegrass Festival organizers say they never felt welcome in Haines Junction.

But village Mayor George Nassiopoulos argues council tried to accommodate the popular festival.

In May, Haines Junction passed a bylaw that prohibited festival-goers from camping on municipal grounds, forcing them, instead, to stay at commercial RV parks.

This new bylaw was the last straw for festival organizers.

And mayor and council ignored requests for discussion, said Caroline Hayes, one of the festival directors.

But that’s not the case, said Nassiopoulos.

“There’s some perception out there that we brought this bylaw into place as a punitive action or as a way of saying we aren’t welcoming and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Nassiopoulos.

The bylaw came after attendees were found camping on public and private property throughout the junction.

As the festival grew, so did the problem.

“Just the very success of the festival necessitated that years into the process, we had to come up with some kind of bylaw to deal with the congestion and the problems that were happening because of that,” said Nassiopoulos.

There were also health concerns. One resident complained a festival-goer was found peeing on a residential fence.

But organizers are concerned the new bylaw would leave volunteers from Whitehorse stranded.

“We’ve got 80 volunteers who are coming to this town to put the festival on and you’re telling us we can’t stay there?” said Hayes.

“So that just became the last insult to the lack of appreciation of what we were giving to the town.”

And the Haines Junction council refused to meet with organizers to discuss these concerns, she added.

But Nassiopoulos listed several attempts to discuss issues with festival directors.

Last year, council sent organizers a letter confirming it would be passing a bylaw in the coming year.

A couple months later, the mayor sent a written invitation for a meeting between council, campground operators and festival directors to try to find a solution.

“Subsequent to that invitation, there were 51 pieces of correspondence,” he said.

Festival organizers cancelled both meetings confirmed for January 11 and 18, 2010.

On February 21, the first reading of the bylaw took place.

“After much discussion it was agreed that the bylaw would be tabled, pending one more attempt to try to contact the organizers of Kluane Bluegrass Music Festival and offer an opportunity to work with council to find a solution,” said Nassiopoulos.

Finally, on March 22, council met with the festival’s director. As a result of that meeting, the junction agreed to make an exception to the bylaw that allows 10 camping units to park on festival grounds.

This exception helps people like the festival’s quilter who keeps her supplies in her RV. She’ll still be able to keep her camper on site, said Nassiopoulos.

“We did try to accommodate the concerns and balance the concerns of RV owners and organizers of particular events.”

Haines Junction also invested a lot of money in the festival over the past eight years.

The village provided $26,562 in recreation grants to the festival. Between 2004 and 2009, the village spent $44,500 on facility improvements primarily to meet the needs of the festival. This included cafe tables, stage lighting, stoves and dishwashers and sound equipment.

“I’m not sure how much more we can do,” said Nassiopoulos. “It’s a lot of money for a small town.”

Audited statements of the money invested into the festival and attempts to meet with organizers are available through council, he said.

But despite the village’s support, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival will be moving to Whitehorse next summer.

The festival does need a bigger venue, said Nassiopoulos.

But organizers should still have recognized the Junction’s efforts, he said.

“I think the thing that saddens me the most is that after eight years, even if we kind of left on a sour note over this bylaw, I would have thought that the more appropriate thing to do would be to say, ‘Gee thanks for all the years that we made this thing work and thanks for the help,’” said Nassiopoulos.

“And if their decision to move on is one they feel they have to make, we are okay with that. But I was just upset that people have been left with the impression that Haines Junction is not welcoming.”

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at larissaj@yukon-news.com