The saga of huge Lumberjack Days parties ended decisively last week when the Stillwater City Council approved a three-year contract for a new summer festival that organizers say will recapture local community spirit.
Stillwater Log Jam will feature some popular events of the past, including a parade and lumberjack demonstrations, but it's intended as a smaller, more inclusive festival for residents of Stillwater and nearby cities and towns. It won't have the regional appeal of Lumberjack Days, which sometimes attracted tens of thousands of people to the St. Croix River to hear free concerts by major yesteryear bands.
"We're getting back to the original idea of how Lumberjack Days came to be, for the people of the St. Croix Valley, versus a big celebration that could be held anywhere," said Erin McQuay of the Locals, a five-person marketing group chosen over three competitors in November to coordinate Stillwater's first summer festival since 2011.
"To have the green light to keep moving is a sigh of relief," she said.
Log Jam, to be held July 18-20, will feature events reminiscent of earlier town festivals. The schedule includes a medallion hunt, fishing tournament, bingo in the park, soapbox derby, water ski show and a community church service. Several businesses will host "history rooms," each with a theme observing Stillwater's heritage. Old-time baseball, a summer staple, will continue.
Daily "family programming" events in nearby Pioneer and Teddy Bear parks will give parents and children beer-free venues if they don't want to go downtown, McQuay said.
Unlike Lumberjack Days, the Log Jam festival won't have a fireworks show this year because it would come just weeks after the city-sponsored July 4th firework celebration. "The city had asked that we not do them. We decided to respect their wishes," McQuay said.
Reviving a summer festival didn't come easy for Stillwater. After police investigated complaints of unpaid bills after the 2011 Lumberjack Days, the City Council declared a moratorium on summer festivals and determined from a community survey that many residents wanted a smaller celebration.
The contract approved by a 5-0 vote last week requires a bank letter of credit of $20,000 to ensure that vendors get paid for their services. That's a city safeguard in reaction to numerous complaints in recent years that Lumberjack Days promoter David Eckberg didn't pay his bills.
"That won't pay for the expenses of a Lumberjack Days that we had in the past, but with this group it definitely will get their attention," City Administrator Larry Hansen said at Tuesday's meeting. "The cooperation has been, as of late, very good."
Eckberg has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of issuing worthless checks and will be sentenced in Washington County District Court on April 17.
In a second action last week, the City Council approved a $39,520 one-year contract with Angela Eastman as Stillwater's first events coordinator. Eastman has experience coordinating similar events for the city of St. Paul and will be responsible for monitoring Stillwater Log Jam and five or six other annual events.
"That's a hefty sum per event," said Council Member Tom Weidner, who questioned at last week's meeting the cost per hour. "At some point can't we hire somebody who can do more than just events?" he asked, adding that he wasn't questioning Eastman's qualifications.
The Locals will be required to submit a progress report to the city by April 14.