Sykesville's Falling Festival

February 17, 1994

Without anyone to coordinate vendors, food booths and music groups, Sykesville's Fall Festival may be history.

For 20 years, the festival has been drawing people -- 10,000 last autumn -- into the town's business district for a Saturday of food, crafts and amusements. But this year, the Sykesville Business Association, the festival's sponsor, can't find a volunteer to organize this annual Carroll County event.

Volunteer labor is an integral part of small-town living. Organizations such as the fire companies, town government and civic groups depend heavily on donated time and energy.

In the past, there seemed no shortage of people willing to give to their communities, but times are changing. In many Carroll towns, the pool of volunteers is declining and the burden of maintaining town government and activities falls on a small core group.

Last fall, Sykesville almost had to disband its municipal planning commission. Several times last year, the seven-member board couldn't even muster the necessary quorum to conduct business. However, once Mayor Kenneth W. Clark got out the message that volunteers were needed, a number of people -- including several newcomers to Sykesville -- stepped forward to fill vacancies on the commission or to serve as alternates when members can't attend meetings.

To be sure, the demands of modern life make volunteering more difficult. In the Baltimore region's burgeoning bedroom communities, many people face long commutes to work each day and have little time in the evenings after they tend to their families. Participating in town government or organizing festivals demands a serious commitment that many people say they can't make. But there also is a growing phenomenon of folks retreating into their homes, drawing the blinds and shutting out the rest of the world. They become isolated and alienated from their neighbors and community.

A favorite pastime these days is to carp about the decline in the quality of life. By volunteering time, energy and effort, people can reverse the conditions around them and improve community life. If citizens continue to turn their backs on their neighborhoods, they will have even more to complain about because the deterioration will accelerate. Getting involved benefits the community at large as well as the individual.

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