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Organizers may move Whidbey's Highland Games to Village by the Sea

Whidbey Island’s Highland Games might not be homeless much longer.

Officials for the annual celebration of Celtic culture said they are now working to bring the games to the Langley Middle School property for the event’s 12th year.

“I think it’s just a great solution for this year,” said Ann Christensen, Celtic Society president.

A scheduling mix-up prevented the Highland Games from returning to its historical home at Greenbank Farm.

A wedding was inadvertently scheduled to take place in the games’ usual slot on the second Saturday of August, which sent organizers scrambling for a new location after the bride refused to share the property with hundreds of competitors, clansmen, bagpipers, dancers, tourists and other assorted onlookers.

Christensen said the focus on Langley came after the recent rejection of the games by the board of the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District. Organizers of the games had asked to use South Whidbey Community Park, but parks officials noted the agency’s no-alcohol restrictions. They instead suggested that the Highland Games might be able to use the Langley Middle School property, and a piece of the neighboring county fairgrounds for the beer garden.

With time running short, organizers decided to move the event to Langley, though there was interest from both Coupeville and Oak Harbor in hosting this year’s games.

“We just had to make a decision if we wanted to get this done,” Christensen said.

Organizers have yet to get official approval to hold the games on school district property.

Fred McCarthy, superintendent of South Whidbey schools, said that while there has been preliminary talk of hosting the event, the discussion had not yet reached the decision point.

“Something of that scope would require a little review and consideration before we say yes,” McCarthy said.

The reaction at Langley City Hall was warm.

“I’m very excited about them coming here; I’m looking forward to meeting with them,” said Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson.

The mayor said the location would be a great venue for the games, and for Langley merchants.

“I think it’s wonderful. I’d love to see them here every year, myself,” Samuelson said.

Christensen said the Highland Games will work with city officials to get a special events permit and develop a parking plan.

Those who have heard of the plans for the Highland Games in Langley have been supportive, she said.

“I’ve had nothing but positive reaction,” Christensen said, noting a recent visit to scope out the site behind Langley Middle School.

“I was out measuring the field one day and a neighbor came by and asked if he could help hold my tape measure,” Christensen added, recalling the man’s reaction to the proposal to transfer the Highland Games to Langley.

“He said ‘Great!’ He was thrilled,” she said.

Attendance at the Highland Games typically hovers between 1,500 and 2,000, plus the hundreds of participants, and retail and food vendors.

Organizers aren’t sure if the move away from Greenbank Farm, and its prime location next to Highway 525, will mean a smaller crowd this year.

The Greenbank games have benefited in the past from its central location on Whidbey. Visitors also dropped in from the neighboring Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival, which is historically held on the same weekend.

“We don’t really know. We worry that it might be less, because people won’t drive by and see it on the highway,” Christensen said.

“I don’t know what the effect will be,” she added. “But I think it won’t be as bad as the effect if we didn’t have the games at all this year.”

Community Events, April 2014

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