Wakarusa Festival may get clearance to move from Clinton Lake to Jefferson County ranch

Decision rests with officials; neighbors ask whether land can handle it

The Wakarusa Music Festival is working to leave its home at Clinton State Park again and relocate to Jefferson County.

Jefferson County officials have confirmed that the Circle S Ranch – a bed and breakfast north of Lawrence in Jefferson County – has filed for a permit to host the multiday camping and music festival this summer.

The festival unsuccessfully sought to move to the location last year, but Jefferson County commissioners denied the request on a 2-1 vote. But now at least one of the commissioners who voted against the project last year said he’s willing to entertain the idea again, in part because he’s had more time to gather information on the event.

“What little I’ve talked to the promoters, I think they are more than cooperative,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Don Edmonds. “I think they will do everything they can within reason to make it fit out there.”

Festival promoter Brett Mosiman declined to comment on the potential move.

Attempts to reach the owners of the Circle S Ranch were not successful.

According to the application, organizers are seeking to hold the event from June 18 to June 21, and expect up to 20,000 people to attend each day.

Neighbors near the Circle S Ranch – which is about 12 miles north of Lawrence off of Wellman Road – said they’re watching with interest.

“Last year, the main argument was that the infrastructure couldn’t handle it, and I can’t see that anything has changed with that,” said Harold Reed, who owns property immediately adjacent to the site.

About two miles of gravel roads lead to the site, and neighbors previously have questioned whether Jefferson County has enough law enforcement and medical personnel to serve the event.

But organizers said in a letter to commissioners that they were confident they could address any concerns. Among items they proposed are:

¢ The use of Douglas County or Jefferson County law enforcement officers to direct traffic at the Midland Junction intersection where Wellman Road and U.S. Highway 24-59 intersect.

¢ Hiring 75 to 100 private security guards, and paying Jefferson County to provide two off-duty sheriff’s deputies to staff the duration of the event.

¢ Paying Jefferson County officials to have an ambulance and EMT crew on scene for the entire festival.

¢ Applying a dust palliative to the gravel roads surrounding the site.

The potential change in location for the festival comes after festival promoters publicly aired complaints about how the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has treated the festival while it has been at Clinton State Park.

Mosiman in August accused Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials of discrimination, saying the department treats his largely “hippie” crowd different from those attending a country music festival held on state property at Tuttle Creek Reservoir.

Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials denied those allegations. But Amy Thornton, an attorney with the department, said if the event doesn’t win approval in Jefferson County, it appeared unlikely it would return to Clinton State Park.

She said the festival had unpaid bills to the department of about $25,000 from this year’s event. She said Wakarusa organizers had not contacted the department about opening negotiations for a lease in 2009, and she said the department would not open negotiations until the current bills are paid.

“We know they’re looking at another site, and I think it is probably a good thing for their business and for ours,” Thornton said.

Jefferson County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the permit at 10 a.m. Monday at their commission meeting at the county courthouse in Oskaloosa.