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Marie Nitke, Forum News Service, Published July 25 2013

Turtle Fest organizers look to hand over reins

PERHAM, Minn. – The fate of Turtle Fest is up in the air after leading organizers announced their desire to pass the torch.

After just a few years at the helm, Perham Lions Club members Gary Senske and Nick Theroux said last week they’re ready to hand it over to someone else.

The bulk of the work involved in planning Turtle Fest falls on the shoulders of too few people, they said, requiring countless hours of time and energy. Those people – all volunteers – devote an exhaustive amount of effort to the nine-day event.

At the same time, they say they face a frustrating lack of community support for the festival, especially financial support from the business sector.

While the cultural and commercial value of Turtle Fest should speak for itself, Senske said, a surprising number of local businesses and organizations have refused or resisted his fundraising efforts.

If Turtle Fest continues, the Perham Lions want to remain involved and will at minimum continue to fund the three annual activities the club has traditionally backed – the motorcycle ride, demo derby and Thursday night entertainment act.

It’s a new situation for the Lions Club, but Dan Schroeder, executive director of the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s not new to the community.

“This is history repeating itself,” he said, “because the same thing happened about four years ago, when previous organizers got fed up with it. The last group found the same thing – community support was lacking.”

Before that group, the chamber was responsible for Turtle Fest, but Schroeder said the chamber’s staffing level and resources were not enough to sustain a high-quality festival. In addition, the effort did not directly align with the chamber’s mission of promoting and advocating for Perham businesses.

Schroeder said it’s up to the community “to step forward and support this event.”

Turtle Fest brings an estimated 10,000 people into Perham every year, said Schroeder: “It’s time to ask the community, is Turtle Fest of value? Is it worth supporting?”

Anyone interested in volunteering or in sharing ideas about Turtle Fest’s future can call Senske at (218) 841-7660.