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Turtle Fest remains on the edge

Little progress has been made on the Turtle Fest front.

Since announcing two months ago that they were ready to hand over the reins and let someone else head up the festival, the previous coordinators have been searching for a replacement, but so far no one has stepped up and made any solid commitment.

Gary Senske, who has been the ‘go-to’ person for Turtle Fest in recent years, previously told the newspaper that community support for the festival just wasn’t what he thought it should be, and that the eight-day event was simply too much for him and the small group of other festival leaders from the Perham Lions Club to handle.

The Lions Club took over coordination of the festival three years ago, after the coordinators before them voiced similar complaints.

In July, Senske, along with Nick Theroux, who’s been in charge of the festival’s financials, said they would be stepping down from their

 roles, which are both key to making the festival happen. The Lions Club has agreed to continue to support the Turtle Fest demolition derby, motorcycle ride and Thursday entertainment event, but the central coordination and financial aspects of the festival need to find a new home.

Senske made it clear in a telephone interview Monday: “The Lions are not going to do Turtle Fest again... I’m not going to do it. Period.”

That leaves the future of Perham’s biggest summer festival up in the air.

According to Senske, a couple of organizations are considering taking on certain aspects of Turtle Fest, but nothing has been set in stone. He’ll be meeting with those groups next month, and hopes they’ll be willing to commit to something.

There have also been several recent discussions among the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Senske said, but nothing definitive has come of those talks yet, either.

“It’s a good event,” Senske said of Turtle Fest, “and it needs to be continued. The city of Perham won’t recognize what they’re missing if they drop it. Suddenly, it’ll be that week, and there’ll be nothing.”

Senske’s hope is that a number of groups and individuals will come forward to volunteer, so the responsibility of planning and fundraising can be split up amongst them. He doesn’t want the job to be too demanding of any one person’s time and energy, he said. He’s willing to help train new volunteers in through the transition.

But a big concern right now is time. Planning for Turtle Fest usually begins around this time of year, but this year there’s no one leading the charge.

“The thing that people have to realize is that this event begins now,” Senske said. “It’s not something that can be delayed until April.”

The other, less optimistic concern is that things won’t happen at all. That no one will step forward, and the festival will fall apart.

“Turtle Fest is a community event,” said Dan Schroeder, executive director of the chamber. “There needs to be a big group of people from the community, or a civic group, that steps forward, because it’s that big of a job.”

The chamber used to be the central contact point for Turtle Fest years ago, but has gotten away from event coordination to focus more on business networking and advocacy. The board voted in 2012 to be a “promoter and supporter” of community events, but to not take ownership, lead or chair those events.

Senske, who is also a member of the chamber board, said he wouldn’t want to see the responsibility of Turtle Fest fall back on the chamber.

At the same time, he added, “Someone is going to have to take this on. If they don’t, it’s not going to happen.”

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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