Old Fort aldermen are blasting a plan to move the N.C. Gold Festival to a new location out of town, but the festival’s organizer said Old Fort was never intended to be the event’s permanent home.
At last week’s board of aldermen meeting, Jeff Parker of Parker Hosiery talked about the Gold Festival and impending location change.
“I’ve recently started a group to help the Mountain Gateway Museum with some of its fundraising and some other causes, and that’s how I became aware of it,” said Parker. “They’re moving the Gold Festival, even though Old Fort, through Mr. (Andrew) Carlton’s work, is the official site. So, I’m here to spur you guys into action, because someone’s got to put this thing on.”
In 2016, former governor Pat McCrory designated the N.C. Gold Festival in Old Fort as the official state gold festival in North Carolina.
The festival, which began at Tom Johnson Camping World in Marion, has been held in Old Fort since it was located to the museum grounds 14 years ago. The festival is slated for the first weekend in June.
RoAnn Bishop, director of the Mountain Gateway Museum, stated during last week’s meeting that the museum was not involved in the decision to relocate the festival, as planning and organization is handled through the N.C. Gold Foundation, which is a nonprofit “formed to promote, educate, preserve and celebrate the state's gold heritage,” according to its website.
Old Fort Mayor Rick Hensley suggested the town may stage its own Gold Festival if the Gold Foundation follows through on its plan to relocate.
“I have some friends in certain places, and this is politically motivated to move this from Old Fort, for some reason,” said Hensley. “I can’t prove otherwise, but I know who’s involved. I don’t know what their problem is with Old Fort, but we spent a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot effort into making this the state gold festival. We’re not going to let this go. People can have other gold festivals, but the official one is here. That put us on the map.”
Parker also claimed that a lack of communication was at play between the advisory group to the museum and the Gold Foundation, and called it “bordering on not being a nice relationship.”
A day after the meeting, The McDowell News spoke with Don Markum, long-time organizer of the N.C. Gold Festival, who said the decision to relocate came out of the foundation acquiring property off Polly Spout Road in Marion that was historically relevant to the festival.
“The Gold Foundation, always, had a dream about 15 or 16 years ago to have its own property,” Markum said. “That came to fruition through the location of the foundation of the only gold stamp mill in the eastern United States, so we have the only existing foundation of an old gold stamp mill, and that’s part of the 12 acres that the Gold Foundation owns. We want to bring the festival back home to its own location and its own property.”
When asked about concerns by the aldermen and Parker regarding the relocation, Markum agreed with Parker’s comments that there had been a lack of communication between involved parties.
“The Board of Aldermen, and for that matter, the friends of the museum, have never, ever had a conversation with the Gold Foundation,” said Markum. “The aldermen did invite us, and we did thank them, for getting the proclamation from McCrory. But as far as a state law, state significance or state designation, it’s not a law. So, that doesn’t have much bearing on what our decision was. Basically, we were never involved or invited or talked to about anything. We’re open for discussion and explaining and where we stand if they see fit to make their first introductory phone call or discussion with us, but at this point there hasn’t been.”
Markum also stressed that this year’s festival would continue to promote the valuable Bechtler coins on display at the Mountain Gateway Museum.
At the meeting, Parker also advised that the aldermen get the town attorney involved in order to argue for Old Fort’s designation as the state gold festival.
In other business:
• In further public comments, Hensley wished to thank the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for the information kiosks established in town. “These kiosks are very informative on the trout that we have in our streams,” said Hensley. They are absolutely beautiful and they’ve done a marvelous job. The one who spearheaded that was David Godrey, so we want to thank them.”
• In old business, the board provided an update on the town’s revitalization grants. The town caboose is still in progress, with the inside almost complete and work still being done on glasswork and primer on the outside. Andrews Geyser is near complete in revitalization with work to be done on the sidewalk. Measurements have been done for bridges in town.
• In new business, the board made a motion to keep the same auditor contracts and budget committee.
• The mayor stressed that the board has given “plenty of time” for businesses to handle their backflows. “We are going to find them if they do not have their backflows,” said Hensley, referencing the water crisis in Flint, Mich. as reason to ensure proper water treatment and public safety. Alderman Melvin Lytle Jr. additionally suggested that someone be designated to verify backflows are in place as well as fines and penalties for those not in compliance within 30 days.
• The board offered suggestions to how to handle placing water meters in non-metered areas, claiming that the town has had to fix “a lot of leaks” in the last four years.
• In a partnership with the town and county, the board agreed to contribute 25 percent to the school resource officer grant in a two-year deal.
• The board went into a close meeting before adjourning at 6:45 p.m.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting is scheduled for March 12 at 5:30 p.m.