Wine event stays put

Board keeps festival at farm museum

November 24, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Ending months of debate on the future of the Maryland Wine Festival, a divided Board of County Commissioners decided yesterday to continue sponsoring the popular event at the farm museum -- unless a more suitable private site is found.

The two-day festival, celebrated each fall for the past 16 years, generates about $100,000 in revenue for the county and draws nearly 25,000 visitors. But questions surrounding the use of county property and public sponsorship of an event centered on alcohol had made its future uncertain.

At a hastily called meeting with farm museum representatives and economic development officials yester- day, the commissioners hoped to put the questions to rest. Although no vote was taken and the commissioners' views did not agree, the consensus was that the festival should continue.

This contradictory attitude was perhaps best captured by Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who shared his struggles with the issue.

"I never criticized the wine festival. It is a good social event. My concerns are strictly with government sponsorship," said Dell, who said he enjoys an occasional glass of wine.

"I'm not a teetotaler," he said.

Dell said Carroll County Farm Museum was the best location for the event and, unless an alternative, privately owned site is proposed, he would continue to support it.

Finding an alternative site will be difficult because most parks are county-owned or don't offer the facilities of the 140-acre farm museum outside Westminster, the commissioners said.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier pushed hardest to end government sponsorship, arguing the county should follow its prohibition against alcohol use on county property.

"It's naive to think as a leader in the community that our actions don't affect people in the community," she said. "I have to have high standards and set an example."

One option available to the commissioners yesterday was to hand over management of the festival to the Community Foundation of Carroll County, a Westminster-based nonprofit charity.

But the commissioners rejected the proposal because the foundation planned to continue holding the festival at the museum -- leaving the concern about alcohol on county-owned property unresolved.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge offered strong support to keep the festival at the museum.

"I feel the wine festival has been very good to Carroll County. It's brought people in from all over the United States," she said. "I think what we have been advocating is moderation. It's been very well sponsored and monitored. I would like to see the wine festival continue into the future."

The commissioners' support, if not complete, was welcomed by members of the Economic Development Commission and local leaders.

"It is an asset. It would be remiss if we pulled it out of the county," said Melvin Mills, owner of Mill's Communications Inc. in Westminster. Farm museum officials said the festival encourages tourism in Carroll County, packing local inns and restaurants. It is listed among the American Bus Association's top 100 events.

"The Wine Festival is critical to the county and Westminster," said Westminster Councilman Kevin Dayhoff.

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