Jefferson County rejects move of Wakarusa Festival to ranch
The band will play on, but where is now a bigger question than ever.
Organizers of the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival were rebuffed Nov. 3 in their efforts to move the event from Clinton Lake to a ranch in Jefferson County, creating questions of whether the festival would remain in the Lawrence area.
“I don’t even know if it will stay in Kansas,” said Brett Mosiman, lead organizer of the 5-year-old event that has attracted upwards of 20,000 people a day.
Mosiman was seeking a special-use permit from Jefferson County commissioners to hold the event at the Circle S Ranch, which is about 12 miles north of Lawrence. But for the second year in a row, Jefferson County commissioners rejected the plan.
At a Monday morning meeting, all three commissioners voted against the proposal, citing concerns about roads and other infrastructure in the area, in addition to strong opposition from residents who live near the site.
“The same problems that existed last year exist this year,” said Commissioner Don Edmonds. “And I can’t just ignore what 154 people in my district are saying.”
Neighbors had presented a petition with about 400 names opposing the event. It included 154 signatures from people near the site or along winding Wellman Road, which was expected to carry most of the festival traffic.
Mosiman — whose promotion company is based in Lawrence — said he still plans to hold a summer music festival. But he said a return to Clinton State Park was unlikely. Mosiman earlier this year asserted that state officials had treated the festival unfairly, especially when compared to a similar country music festival held at Tuttle Creek State Park.
“Our preference would be to leave the festival in Lawrence, but there hasn’t been a site presented to us that would work,” Mosiman said.
He said that groups in Colorado, Missouri and Ohio previously had tried to recruit the festival to their states. He said he would now begin to look at the options of relocating the festival out of Kansas.
Neighbors who filled the Jefferson County Commission meeting room on Monday cheered the decision to keep the festival off the ranch grounds. Neighbors primarily had expressed concerns about the ability of local roads to handle the increased traffic, and whether the county had enough medical and law enforcement personnel to deal with a crowd that could be equal to the county’s entire population.
But on Monday, commissioners also heard residents criticize the festival itself and express worries that it would draw crowds that would participate in illegal drug activity.
“There are things more important than money,” said Joyce Williams, who lives near the site. “There are values and good standards and what we show our young people.”
Commissioners, though, made clear that they weren’t rejecting the festival’s permit based on concerns about the content of the event.
“I’m not scared of your organization,” Edmonds told the promoters. “I just don’t think we have the infrastructure.”