News Local

Festival of fun and fries

By Clarise Klassen, The Graphic

Except for a few hours of rain late Saturday afternoon, the Portage la Prairie Potato Festival drew large crowds to the PCU Centre Saturday.

“Overall, we’re really quite pleased with how it turned out. It could have been a lot worse and I’m really quite proud of our committee for being able to do the damage control that they did,” said festival co-chairwoman Nadine Birston.

“At 4 p.m. on Saturday, we were looking at tornado warnings. We had to get all the bouncers taken down and we didn’t even know what we were going to do at that point. We thought we might have to cancel the whole evening, but come 6 o’clock, everybody rallied and they got it done, they did an amazing job.”

The day started with the first Couch Potato Push, which raised more than $2,000 for three local charities — Portage Day Care Centre Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters of Portage and Youth for Christ Portage — with teams decorating couches and then pushing them eight times around Island Park.

“I know our team had a great time! They enjoyed the event. There’s definitely talk of doing it again,” said Jim Ritskes of YFC Portage. “I think it was a success enough, I think we’ll make a few changes and go again.”

He added the event has the potential to increase exposure for the local non-profits.

“I would hope it would grow. It’s good for the groups involved, for the charities it creates awareness and our team had a really good time,” he said.

Vendors were also pleased with how the day went, organizers heard.

Sandra Brown, who owns Enchanted Grove Alpacas with her husband Clint, said sales of alpaca wool products were strong even by early afternoon.

“Last year, we were really well received, so we wanted to make sure we had enough of everything people could see and touch and purchase if they wanted to. This year, it seems that’s gone and doubled itself, so we’re really happy about being here again,” Brown said.

“The event is great. There’s lots of people, it seems like a great turnout,” she said.

Enchanted Grove is located west of Portage la Prairie, near the Highway 16 junction.

Festival goer Linda Sheppard was disappointed to miss the April Wine performance due to work, but was happy to enjoy the festival during the day.

“I like it better than other years,” the Portager said, “maybe because they have more stuff.”

Birston said April Wine drew upwards of 1,500 people back to the west side of the PCU Centre later Saturday, despite the rain that interrupted the festival around 4 p.m.

“We were so happy Portage showed up and came out to support us,” she said.

The committee knew there was a risk in setting up a outdoor stage, but left it to Audio Works, which was supplying the stage equipment, to make the call about an indoor or outdoor stage two days before the festival.

Birston said volunteers fielded complaints that some of the bands, including Cold Hard Cash, had to be cancelled due to the weather, but pointed out that even on Friday afternoon, there was only a 30 per cent chance of rain forecast for Saturday.

“Tornado warnings, you don’t get three days’ notice on those. And people need to understand that,” she said, adding it was impossible to move the stage inside or have a backup stage inside.

It took six to eight people about eight-10 hours to set up the outdoor stage initially, she said, and it would cost an extra $20,000 on top of the $65,000 budget for this year’s festival to have a stage set up inside the PCU Centre, just in case.

As to whether the committee will stage the next festival totally outside, Birston said, “It’s too early to say.”


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