Stillwater’s Log Jam festival welcomes one and all, but this year, organizers revamped the city’s annual summer celebration to be for the people and by the people.
“We really want to get back to the original purpose of the summer festival — to celebrate our heritage and showcase the cultural significance of Stillwater in Minnesota,” event organizer Brad Glynn said of Log Jam, which begins Friday in Lowell Park.
Glynn is a member of the Locals, a five-person marketing group chosen by the City Council to coordinate Stillwater’s new summer festival — and the first since 2011.
“We needed a community festival that brings people together, brings people downtown,” said Council Member Mike Polehna. “Hopefully we’ll be seeing people who haven’t been to the area in a while.”
The City Council declared a moratorium on summer festivals after the long-running Lumberjack Days celebration splintered in a financial scandal. Promoter David Eckberg, owner of St. Croix Events, was accused of failing to pay bills and was convicted in district court this spring of issuing worthless checks.
Many Stillwater residents said in a recent survey that they wanted a smaller, more local festival than Lumberjack Days, which had grown into a regional attraction and was known for attracting yesteryear rock and roll bands of national fame, such as Chicago and the Grassroots.
Council members, agreeing that they wanted a less disruptive event, chose the Locals from four applicants to organize a new festival that would promote Stillwater’s rich logging history while drawing more county residents downtown. They also hired an events coordinator.
Glynn hopes Log Jam will provide an opportunity for Stillwater to show off transformations taking place in the city over the past few years, including a new state trail that will follow the old Minnesota Zephyr dinner train corridor to the Gateway State Trail, new parking lots near the riverfront, and construction of a four-lane commuter bridge across the St. Croix River at nearby Oak Park Heights.
Polehna also said having a festival in Stillwater again will help businesses, especially downtown shops with sidewalk sales.
“A lot of business owners told me that their businesses were hurt when we didn’t have Lumberjack Days,” he said.
Won’t miss Lumberjack Days
Several merchants, meanwhile, say they are excited by the prospect of a smaller event that won’t overrun the city or discourage local customers.
“Sometimes those festivals just outgrew the little footprint of our downtown,’ said Sherri Hopfe, owner of the Dock Cafe. “We love smaller festivals that enhance the area rather than overwhelm it.”
Hopfe said the large number of food and beverage booths at Lumberjack Days took business from her restaurant, which is near the festival and along the riverfront.
“It was our slowest weekend of the summer, year after year,” she said. “We will definitely not miss Lumberjack Days.”
City Council member Doug Menikheim, who represents the downtown district, said that establishing “a locally attuned event that is attractive for families” has been a priority for Stillwater since Lumberjack Days was canceled.
But whether the Locals can deliver remains to be seen, he said, adding that he had wanted a more experienced promoter.
“[The Locals] are a first-time, inexperienced group of people and they’re learning as they go,” he said. “I just felt we needed somebody with more experience, but I was outvoted.”
Menikheim said he “will be all over” Log Jam to monitor the festival and make an informed assessment of the event when it ends.
“I hope that it lays a strong foundation for an annual tradition in the future,” he said.
The three-day event will include many popular attractions from previous years, including a parade, bingo in the park, live music, a beer garden and old-time Base Ball. The Locals also scheduled more daytime kid-friendly activities, bringing a greater family appeal to the festival as a whole, organizer Erin McQuay said.
The biggest challenge for the group has been working around Mother Nature. Heavy rain flooded the main festival grounds just two weeks ago, McQuay said.
“It’s a huge undertaking,” Polehna said. “A lot of people don’t realize what goes into putting together a community festival. They’ve had some rocky roads to go through. But I’m hopeful that it’s going to really work out well.”
Callie Sacarelos is a Twin Cities freelance writer.