It looks as if McDowell County will have two gold-themed festivals this year.

Planning for Old Fort’s June festival and the decision to relocate the Gold Foundation’s festival were again discussed at this month’s Board of Alderman meeting.

Rev. David Blackwelder, speaking on behalf of a town committee created to plan this year’s gold festival in Old Fort, updated the board on activities, performers and concessions in negotiations. Blackwelder said Old Fort’s festival will include the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Fun Time Inflatables, gold mining, multiple booths from town and county businesses, the Bechtler coins on display at the Mountain Gateway Museum and country musician Cledus T. Judd.

“We felt that with all the negative going on with the Gold Festival that we needed somebody to help draw,” said Blackwelder, saying that contract discussions are under way.

Additionally, Blackwelder asked the board if the committee could allocate $2,500 in operating funds from the town outside what has been provided by local sponsors. The board agreed, with Hensley and Alderman Andrew Carlton each giving $100 on the spot to the fund.

The proposed relocation of the N.C. Gold Festival by the Gold Foundation met with resistance from town officials. Don Markum, the original organizer for the Gold Festival, explained in a recent interview that the decision to relocate from Old Fort came about when the foundation acquired historically significant property off Polly Spout Road south of Marion. Old Fort Mayor Rick Hensley has previously called the decision “politically motivated.”

“The N.C. Gold Festival ain’t going nowhere,” said Hensley during Monday’s meeting. “It stays in Old Fort. We’ve got a proclamation signed by the governor on the wall to prove it. I don’t know why all this came about. We, as a town, got blindsided and I know partially who is responsible, but not all. Nonetheless, anyone can have a gold festival – Kannapolis, N.C. has one, Matthews, N.C. has one, Concord has one. But folks, I’m going to stress the fact that Old Fort, as long as it has that proclamation on the wall, is the state gold festival.”

During the meeting, Hensley explained the timeline of events leading to the town’s proclamation as the “official state gold festival” from then-Gov. Pat McCrory in June 2016, having sent a letter to N.C. Senator Ralph Hise in Fall 2014 and speaking with the former governor in Raleigh to discuss the proclamation, as well as negotiations with NCDOT to add the proclamation to the interstate and town signs last year.

“All of this has been county-wide known, everybody has been involved in this, even those who decided to move the festival,” said Hensley. “We were the only ones who seemed that we were up-and-up upfront.”

Hensley then asked The McDowell News directly to seek “statements of opinion” from the McDowell County Commissioners and County Manager Ashley Wooten, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce, McDowell County Tourism Development Authority, Senator Hise and state Rep. Josh Dobson regarding the relocation of the festival.

“Are they on Old Fort’s side, or are they not?” said Hensley. “Cause the simple fact is, everybody was on board with this. Everybody knew about it. But for some reason, they act like moving this was something they planned all along. This was county-originated, so I’d like to know the opinion of county officials. I’d really like to know their opinion – not just me, but the people of Old Fort. Because I’ve heard it time and time again, there’s two towns in this county, not one. I’d like to think that nobody would do any dirty tricks, but we’ll find out in their statements.”

Hensley specified that seeking the media’s involvement is a means to “make the statements public for everyone to see.”

Carlton echoed the mayor’s comments, saying, “There’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes for the festival to be here over the years. And to up and move it like they’re wanting to do, and the rumors that I’ve heard that we’re not going be allowed to call it the N.C. Gold Festival, which it is – it’s right there on the wall – and I’ve also heard that they want to take our signs off the interstate. We couldn’t have gotten those signs on the interstate if it wasn’t for the proclamation. DOT wouldn’t even talk to us about that. So there’s a lot of things going on that I want to get the answers to myself.”

In other business:

• In public comments, Ginger Webb of the East Marion Community Forum approached the board with a community engagement project to encourage grassroots community growth among four rural communities in McDowell, including Clinchfield, Eastfield and a to-be-determined fourth community. The project, modeled after the success of the West Marion Community Forum, would operate during under a steering committee led by various forum and non-profit members in the county. Carlton backed the project, saying, “Anything that’ll help the community, I’ll support it,” as well as offering the depot as a facility pending another meeting and availability.

• Old Fort citizen Sherman Edwin Bingham was given a certificate of appreciation by the mayor for “always going above and beyond helping others in the community” based on several reported phone calls.

• In new business, the board agreed to choose a street in town that needs to be paved and reconvene at the next scheduled meeting with their choice. According to Hensley, the board typically chooses two streets each year for paving unless one requires more costs.

• The board agreed to allow the Old Fort Police Department to provide paid mutual assistance with local law enforcement, particularly the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, in regards to public events or other necessities.

• The board agreed to update their Water Shortage Response Plan, changing the wording from “shall” to “may” in the adopted resolution.

The board moved into a closed session before adjourning at 6:40 p.m. A special meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 22 at 5:30 p.m. The next scheduled Board of Alderman meeting will be held Monday, April 9 at 5:30 p.m.

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