Wakarusa Festival organizers hope to keep location

Lawrence police chief outlines law enforcement's problems with event

Yonder Mountain String Band performs Saturday, June 9, 2007, at the Sundown Stage during the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival in this file photo.

Wakarusa Festival organizers want to negotiate a long-term lease with state leaders to keep the concert at Clinton State Park.

The festival site has been in question after organizers last month unsuccessfully sought to move the event – which has attracted upward of 15,000 people in past years – to Jefferson County.

“The lake is our No. 1 target,” said Brett Mosiman, who started the event in 2004.

But the lake isn’t the No. 1 site in law enforcement’s eyes. After Mosiman asked the City Commission to send a letter to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks endorsing the festival, Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin wrote a memo outlining his problems with the event.

“These concerns include noise complaints, aggressive panhandling by participants and additional street crime,” Olin wrote.

Mosiman disagreed with Olin’s assessment.

“We feel like it is a very positive event,” Mosiman said. “My main comment is to think about KU football. Does it cause complaints? Sure. But does anybody really think KU football is a bad deal?”

On Friday, Mosiman said he was no longer interested in the city signing the letter. That’s because he said the letter already has been sent, absent the mayor’s signature. Instead, Mosiman said several local elected leaders signed the letter. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks refused to release it Friday.

Olin declined to comment further on the event after it became apparent that the City Commission was no longer being asked to endorse it.

But Olin’s memo did highlight several other concerns. He said he’s not convinced the festival has a good traffic plan in the event of rainy weather. Much of the festival’s traffic flow goes through an unpaved field. He also said alcohol sales need to be addressed. Olin said organizers haven’t provided solutions on how to deal with alcohol enforcement if the crowd grows significantly.

Berend Koops, a special assistant to Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden, said the department was contacted last week about creating a new lease for the event.

Koops said staff members are reviewing requests the organizers have made. Some of the requests could involve significant changes, including:

¢ A multiyear lease for the event. Currently, the festival operates on a year-to-year lease, which organizers said makes it more difficult to grow and improve the festival’s musical acts.

¢ Increasing the maximum number of visitors to the event. In the past, the festival has been limited to 15,000 attendees. Organizers would like a lease that allows the event to grow to 24,000 attendees by 2010.

¢ Allowing the event to expand its alcohol sales. Organizers have expressed an interest in the festival selling full-strength beer and wine. In the past, the festival has been limited to selling 3.2 percent beer. The change also would allow for beer sales to continue until 2 a.m. instead of ending at midnight.