Girdwood looking to tame wild Forest Fair

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Girdwood is hoping to tame the Forest Fair.

At issue is the underage drinking and bonfires that go on after the crafts fair in Forest Fair Park winds down.

John Gallup a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, says the fair - now in its 33rd year - has grown, and with that has come some growing pains. He said city officials hope to return the event back to what it used to be.

That means security guards will be at the July fair looking for drinking and people illegally camped. There even is talk of getting rid of some of the live music.

"Our little baby's become a monster," said John Gallup, a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors. "It's just kind of morphed on us and we're trying to re-morph it back to the way it used to be."

A trip to the Forest Fair can be like stepping into a time machine into the 1960s.

You're all but guaranteed to see peace signs and love beads as you travel the meandering dirt paths that take you through the woods and past dozens of booths, many of them manned by aging hippies selling pottery, beadwork and other crafts.

There's usually nonstop entertainment, most of it music, on each of three stages in the park, and some think the bands attract crowds that want to keep partying long after the fair shuts down each night.

"A young party crowd is attracted to the music, and we've gotten away from it being a crafts fair to it being a rock concert," Board of Supervisors chairman Tim Cabana said. "That in a nutshell is the problem."

Girdwood Fire Chief Bill Chadwick said about 3,000 people camped on a 1.5-mile-long sand bar in the middle of California Creek last year. It would be hard, if not impossible, to get a fire truck in if a campfire got out of control.

Besides the threat of fire, there are drugs, alcohol and fighting, all of which kept a staff of 39 volunteers busy during last year's fair, Chadwick said.

"We had overdoses, alcohol poisoning, assault and battery, all at the campground," he said. "We had a lot of alcohol abuse and drug abuse, which in past years has been mostly marijuana, but last year we had some meth and some crack and some real ugly stuff going on."

Tom O'Malley is one of the event organizers, who call themselves the Vibe Tribe. They strive to make the Forest Fair a laid-back, peaceful gathering with a minimum of ugly stuff, which is why they are compelled to post warning signs each year: "No dogs. No politics. No religious orders."

O'Malley said organizers don't want to open a campground this year because that's where the trouble happens.

"Word has gotten out: This is a party," he said.

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