Parks director says Fat Tire Festival takeover is rolling on

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By Samantha Jones

Taking over the Fat Tire Festival is a challenging ride, but parks director Justin Huss believes the revamped festival will bring many tourism benefits to Eureka Springs.

At the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission’s regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17, commissioner Christian Super asked Huss to talk more about the commission’s role in the festival. Huss said this will be the 22nd year the festival has taken place, saying it’s the second oldest mountain biking festival in Arkansas.

Commission chairman Bill Featherstone said the festival has had a tumultuous history over the past few years. The festival was privately managed and operated, Featherstone said, and often came together the month before it was scheduled to occur. There wasn’t much pre-planning in the past, Featherstone said.

“There’s always been a cloud swimming around it. It seems like it always goes off,” Featherstone said, “but it seems like the last month is when it all happens. It’s really need some new leadership for some time.”

The parks commission is that new leadership, Featherstone said.

“This next year is kind of when that transition is taking place,” Featherstone said. “All parties have agreed it would be best if parks took it on.”

Huss negotiated the commission’s takeover of the festival, Featherstone said.

“I think it falls within his area of responsibility,” Featherstone said. “That said, the Fat Tire Festival is no small chore. It’s an enormous amount of work and responsibility, so to take that on … makes me swallow a time or two. It’s worthy of discussion.”

Huss said he’s grateful to Phat Tire Bike Shop for putting on the event for so many years.

“We wouldn’t have had one last year if not for the sponsors,” Huss said.

It can be difficult to pull off an event as big as the Fat Tire Festival, Huss said, but the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission is supportive of the parks commission. Huss said he will be asking the CAPC for $20,000 to support the Fat Tire Festival next year. The CAPC hasn’t voted on that yet, Huss said, but he’s optimistic it will be approved.

“They have not done their budget, but we are looking at a budget on that,” Huss said, “and already putting together sponsorship packets to break up segments of the race for large sponsors and a mix of local sponsors.”

Huss said he’s been working with the CAPC to determine what the festival will look like next year. The festival will be held on the last weekend in June, Huss said, to bring more people to town during what the CAPC has identified as as “soft month.”

“The first thing we wanted to do was blow it up and change the locations to give it a somewhat fresh identity,” Huss said, “which involves more social rides and moving events throughout town.”

Registration will take place at Basin Spring Park, Huss said, and there are several in-town events being planned. Huss remembered when he starting working at parks, saying he tried to drive people to Lake Leatherwood City Park during the festival. But the cyclists didn’t want to stay at Lake Leatherwood after the rides were over, Huss said.

“Everybody gets done and heads to Chelsea’s,” Huss said. “We’re trying to embrace that.”

The Saturday events would be moved to the Chelsea’s parking lot area, Huss said, and several rides will loop back to downtown Eureka Springs.

“Wrapping that all together, what this evolves into is Fat Tire Weekend,” Huss said. “The festival is a celebration of bike culture. Everywhere we’ve taken this so far … the instant answer is, ‘We’ll sponsor this’ and ‘We’ll sponsor that.’ “

Huss said he’s excited to see how the festival comes together.

“We feel very good about where we’re heading,” Huss said.

Super said he’d still like to talk about the festival in more detail, especially regarding how it will affect parks staff.

“I think asking to quantify the impact on our staff is a reasonable request,” Featherstone said.

Featherstone suggested talking about the topic more in-depth at the commission’s next workshop and the commission unanimously agreed to do so.

Also at the meeting, Super asked to be notified about when FOIA requests are submitted. Parks employee Dove Bolerjack said it wouldn’t be any trouble to email commissioners when a FOIA request comes in. Super moved that the commission is notified when FOIA requests are made and that commissioners are allowed to view the parks office’s response. The commission unanimously voted in favor of the motion.

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Auditorium.

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