By Jesse Wood
Aug. 21, 2013. If not for lack of sponsorship and fierce opposition from local businesses, in particular, and community members, hundreds of motorcyclists could be present in downtown Blowing Rock this upcoming weekend for the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway festival, a fundraiser celebrating the organization’s 25th anniversary.
The event, which initially consisted of closing down Main Street for vendors and holding a motorcycle poker run, was scheduled for Friday to Sunday, Aug. 23 to 25, but was cancelled less than two months ago, according to Mike Kebelback, former chair of the High Country chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Others in the community didn’t realize until just recently that it had been completely cancelled.
In November 2012, the Blowing Rock Town Council approved the festival but requested Kebelback to return before the council in April to provide an update. In between that time, merchants made numerous calls to Town Hall about the competition from vendors and the closure of Main Street from Sunset Drive to Morris Street from midnight on Friday to midnight on Saturday, according to minutes from the April meeting.
A flyer opposing the event was passed around town leading up to the April meeting. It showed an endless gauntlet of parked motorcycles in a downtown scene with hundreds of bikers milling about the streets and sidewalks with the heading: “Could this be Blowing Rock in August?”
At the April meeting, Council Member Dan Phillips, who didn’t attend the November meeting, grilled Kebelback extensively about the event. He questioned the layout of vendors on Main Street; he asked about alcohol being served; he asked if merchants were approached about the event; he asked if the dates conflicted with any planned weddings and so forth.
After a lengthy discussion, Council Member Jim Steele motioned to rescind the November approval of the event. Phillips seconded the motion but the vote failed as Council Members Tommy Klutz, Doug Matheson and Albert Yount were against rescinding the approval.
Speaking this week, Kebelback said the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway board decided to move the poker run to Appalachian Ski Mountain, which is outside the town limits, because of the controversy surrounding the possibility of hundreds of bikers in downtown Blowing Rock. Up until a couple months ago, the poker run was to be held at App Ski Mountain and the festival with vendors and live music was to be held downtown.
“There was an effort by some of the shop owners to try and fight it, and I think it was very successful,” Kebelback said. “It reduced some of the sponsorship money that was supposed to be committed, and we ended up having to cancel the festival at that point.”
Phillips, who points out that he is an avid motorcyclist, runs a valet service in downtown Blowing Rock and his wife runs Celeste’s Interiors, a women’s boutique on Main Street.
While he states that Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a “fine organization” and recommends that people support it, he just felt that this particular fundraising festival was not in character with downtown Blowing Rock.
Speaking of the motorcycle poker run, Phillips said, “That’s how Myrtle Beach and Sturgis got started.”
He was also adamant about not closing down Main Street, where vendors would be in direct competition with the local businesses.
“Even the parades hurt us,” Phillips said.
Charles Hardin, the executive director of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, said that he understood the plight of the merchants. On the other side of the coin, though, he noted that the event could have provided an economic boon to area hotels and restaurants.
“You can’t really say whether they would come in town and do shopping,” Hardin said, adding that Blowing Rock is a destination resort in the summertime and motorcyclists like to ride their bikes on the parkway when the weather is nice.
While the event won’t take place this August, Kebelback vowed to “try to fire it up again next year.”
He said the Friends of the Parkway board would address the possibility of organizing the first annual Friends of the Parkway festival in Blowing Rock at a future meeting.
The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s motto is to “promote, protect and to preserve the Blue Ridge Parkway for future generations to come.” Proceeds of the event in Blowing Rock were to go toward tree planting at Bamboo Gap and create a buffer between the Blue Ridge Parkway and nearby developments.
As of right now, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is looking for volunteers and an individual in the community who would like to spearhead the tree planting project at Bamboo Gap. Contact 1-800-228-PARK if you are interested.