When the music’s over

Only 14 arrests made at four-day event; visitors say last year's police presence kept 'riff-raff' out

Melody Strassmann of Fort Smith, Ark., pulls down her tent as the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival at Clinton State Park comes to an end on Sunday.

The thousands of mostly happy campers started taking down their tents Sunday evening in between hearing more from some of their favorite bands at the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival.

Mike Milhon, of Wichita, packs up to head home on last day of the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival at Clinton Lake on Sunday.

The kinder and gentler atmosphere pledged this year by organizers seemed to prevail as the four-day festival at Clinton State Park came to a close early this morning.

“I love it. It’s just a good time. I love people. I love watching people,” said Pat McAtee, 58, of Wellington.

She didn’t think she could make it through four days of camping with her friends and her son, Kenny Etter, and grandson, Hunter, 8.

A mattress rests on a small volkswagen as people begin to pack and leave the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival at Clinton Lake on Sunday.

But McAtee had so much fun that the time flew. She took a break at the campsite Sunday evening as her friends starting taking down the group’s tents.

Positive reviews from fans were music to the ears of festival director Brett Mosiman. One year ago, the event was marred by a traffic jam the first day caused by only two lanes used for security searches of vehicles entering the grounds, and fans also criticized law enforcement efforts, including hidden cameras at the park and a highway checkpoint that led to searches for drugs and other items.

Festival attendance was down to about 12,000 people per day, compared with 15,000 last year, Mosiman said. He speculated higher gas prices may have played a role.

He considered the weekend a success because fans were happier with the new traffic and security measures.

“We saw (fans) waving to the officers again. It was really important for us to turn that relationship around from last year,” he said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Kari Wempe said Sunday evening that officers had arrested 14 people throughout the weekend; about 80 arrests were made in 2006. Arrests this year were mostly on charges of underage drinking, with some for drug use and drug sales. Thirty people had also been evicted for various reasons, Wempe said.

She also said measures taken last year probably worked to deter the drug presence this year, and the crowd seemed calmer this year.

“They recognize that law enforcement is here for their security, and we’re just not seeing the amount of drugs that we’ve seen in past years,” Wempe said.

Some fans agreed.

“The nice thing is, I think because of last year, most of the riff-raff is out,” said Scott Christoffel, 28, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Spencer Sorenson, 19, of Lawrence, said he had an encounter with law enforcement earlier Sunday.

“They were actually cool. Last year they were really mean,” he said.

One group of campers said they witnessed someone being arrested at a neighboring campsite Saturday. Several officers apprehended the suspect, but they said they didn’t know specifically what happened.

“It hasn’t been too bad. I haven’t seen too much,” said Marcus Simmons, a Columbia College student from Chicago.

The weather also was mostly cooperative. Most of the campers rode out an early Sunday downpour in the comfort of their tents or vehicles, Wempe said.

Fans raved about the musical performances of Yonder Mountain String Band and other groups. Some campers Sunday evening were still looking forward to the last of the performances, like Michael Franti & Spearhead.

“If more bands keep coming, and it keeps getting better, I’ll be back,” said Blake Cullum, a University of Arkansas student who celebrated his 23rd birthday over the weekend.

Mosiman expected it to take about eight to nine days to completely clear away stages, fences and other items. Hundreds of volunteers will be used to take away trash and recyclable items, he said.