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Park that RV at the park for festival

Jay Nehf, organizer of this summer's Geoduck Music Festival, was happier than a clam at high tide Wednesday night.

In an unprecedented move, parks and recreation district commissioners will allow overnight recreational vehicle camping in South Whidbey Community Park during the Aug. 10 and 11 event, which Nehf is organizing as a benefit for cerebral palsy. RV parking would be limited to the upper area next to the soccer field and in the park's gravel turnaround. The parks district will charge RV campers a fee.

Permission did not come without opposition. The proposal was approved by a narrow 2-1 margin, with commissioner Tara Barlean, the strongest supporter of the RV camping measure, and new commissioner Carl Westling voting for the request. Paul Arand voted against the measure, and Jim Porter abstained.

Approval came following a lengthy discussion about the possibility of setting a precedent in allowing overnight use of the Community Park. Allowing the RVs at one event might increase the number of requests from other event organizers.

Porter said he would like to see other park properties developed for RV use.

"But I realize that doesn't help Jay this year," Porter said.

Parks board chairman Curt Gordon expressed similar concerns, echoed by Porter and commissioner Paul Arand.

"Once overnight parking is allowed for one event, the door is opened to others," Gordon said. "I have been seriously against it. It's easier if we don't allow it, even though Jay has a good track record with us."

The 2001 music event, called the Deception Pass Music Festival, was held at Community Park after organnizers were turned away by Deception Pass State Park. Overnight camping was not allowed last year.

Arand noted the park lacks waste dumping facilities and electrical hookups for RVs.

"The idea of a concert is great, but I don't think we are set up to handle RVs," he said.

Parks Director Suzette Hart said she too was concerned about setting a precedent, but had no doubt Nehf would supervise the camping properly.

Barlean was the only commissioner in strong agreement with the idea.

"We need to visualize where we are going to be," she said. "I see this as a good venue for other events. I am for it. The parks are for public use and I would like to look at ways to bring exciting new events to South Whidbey."

Nehf said he and the other organizers were looking to the future and would like the event to become identified with South Whidbey. He said a big part of the event is the camaraderie among attendees.

"These kinds of events go on all over the United States," Nehf said. "But I am sensitive to the commissioners whose job it is to protect the parks."

The approval carries stiff restrictions that include a 30 RV limit, a prohibition on tents, provision of an overnight security force, insurance and a deposit of $500 from the organizers, and assurances that additional Island County Sheriff personnel will be provided.

Nehf told the commissioners those conditions will be met.

Maintenance supervisor Tom Fallon said the $500 deposit would be sufficient.

"The RVs will be parked on gravel, so I'm not worried about damage," he said. "Any garbage will be cleaned up by event organizers. We don't have the manpower to do it."

Last year the South Whdibey parks district came through with a location for the music festival after the denial at Deception Pass State Park.

"They let us use the park at the last minute," Nehf said. "We really appreciate what they did for us last year."

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