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Whidbey Island Highland Games are homeless

The Highland Games has featured more than bagpipes and Scottish dancers in recent years, such as demonstrations by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. A scheduling conflict, however, has knocked the knights out of Greenbank this year. - Brian Kelly / Record file
The Highland Games has featured more than bagpipes and Scottish dancers in recent years, such as demonstrations by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. A scheduling conflict, however, has knocked the knights out of Greenbank this year.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Record file

LANGLEY — Here comes the bride, and there goes the Highland Games.

A scheduling error at Greenbank Farm has left the annual celebration of Scottish culture homeless.

Earlier this week, officials of the Whidbey Island Highland Games asked South End parks officials for permission to host the event at South Whidbey Community Park this year. The event, held on the second Saturday of each August, features scores of Highland dancers, athletic competitions, food vendors, visiting clans and a beer garden.

Parks commissioners, however, rejected the request because they had previously shot down a proposal from organizers of the Ragnar Relay after the group wanted to have a beer garden at the end of the race in community park.

Park rules prohibit alcohol use on park properties.

Ann Christensen, a Highland Games representative, said roughly 15,000 people attend the games, and the organization has never had an insurance claim during its existence. The games are now in their 12th year.

A beer garden was essential to the games, Christensen said.

“We think we could set one up that Parks commissioners said they were worried about damage to the park fields from athletic events at the games, which include a heavy stone-throw competition and the caber toss, an event where a pole that resembles a 12-foot-long power poll is flung through the air.

But with memories still fresh from the controversy over the beer garden that was part of the Island Festival several years ago, parks commissioners said they were reluctant to bring the games to the community park near Langley.

“The beer garden, I just think that’s still hard for me,” said Parks Commissioner Linda Kast.

“We did it the one time and had such a hard time doing it,” Kast said. “I’m not sure I can back down on that.”

Parks Commissioner Jim Porter added that the parks district had turned down a chance to host the finish for the Ragnar Relay because it included a beer garden.

“I’m very much for the Highland Games, don’t get me wrong,” Porter said. “I’m trying to look at it from all angles and what we’ve done in the past.”

Still, parks commissioners said the games would be a great fit for Langley. Some suggested that the county fairgrounds could be an ideal venue, but the date of the games — the week before the county fair — would likely prevent the one-day gathering from being held there.

Organizers of Whidbey’s Highland Games said they could not shift the date of the event, since it fits within a larger schedule of Highland Games that are held throughout the region.

Greenbank Farm can’t host the event because of a scheduling foul-up. The farm has been reserved on Aug. 14 for a wedding in the property’s historic barn.

Stephanie Sprinkle, an organizer of the Whidbey Games, said they tried to get the wedding moved to another date.

“We have asked. The bride is not going to change her date,” Sprinkle said, adding that the games can’t be held on another part of the property. “She does not want the games interfering with her day.”

Representatives of the games said they would continue to look for another location before deciding if the event will be canceled this year.

Greenbank Farm board member Mary Jo Stansbury said the whole affair was a simple misunderstanding.

“The Highland Games people called to set up a date with Virginia [Bloom, the farm’s executive director], but then we didn’t hear from them and a wedding was booked,” she said.

Bloom said that after last year’s event ended on Aug. 8, games officials told her they wanted the same date in 2010.

“I took that to mean Saturday, Aug. 7 and that is what we contracted for,” Bloom said.

In January, the farm signed up a wedding for Aug. 14.

“Two weeks ago, the Highland Games people called to confirm the

Aug. 14 date,” Bloom recalled. “I was surprised. We love the games, and I made every attempt to see if the wedding party had sent out invitations already. They had.”

Bloom added that the farm is willing to cancel that weekend’s Sunday farmer’s market on Aug. 15, but that the day before is set in stone.

Record writer Jeff VanDerford contributed to this report.

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