CHIPLEY — The Wausau Possum Festival will receive a $1,000 grant from the Washington County Tourism Development Council this year, but most likely cash grants for advertising will be as much a thing of the past as donkey softball.
Wausau Town Clerk Margaret Riley was on hand to request the funding for the 44th annual Possum Festival, which will take place July 27, Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 at the Possum Palace.
“This is the forty-fourth year, so who doesn’t know what the Possum Festival is?” Riley said, joking with the council members. “It’s also the hottest day of the year.”
Riley noted that the event is free to the public, with admission of $3 only being charged at the Miss Possum Festival King and Queen Contest. The Pageant averages 500-600 attendees each year, and will be held on July 27.
The annual Fun Day events average 3,000 to 4,000 attendees over the two days, and bring in visitors from surrounding counties and even from out of state, Riley said. “We had one family come down from Wisconsin last year,” she said.
Once upon a time, the Fun Day featured donkey softball, but the event was discontinued due to questions about the sport being too hard on the donkeys. "I remember riding in a few of those games," Riley said. "I don't think I would want to try that today."
The festival committee requested $3,000, but the TDC had only budgeted $1,000 for the event this year, said TDC Administrator Heather Lopez.
“We’re going to have a special workshop in May and we’re going to look at the grant funding process,” Council Member Ted Everett told Riley. “It may be that in the future, we just buy blocks of advertising, and when the time comes, we say, ‘okay, these are the radio stations we use, you get $1,000 worth of advertising.”
The council members voted to hold the special workshop on May 20 at Hard Labor Creek from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and to forego a May TDC meeting due to the Memorial Day holiday falling on the council’s regular meeting day.
Member Scott Sweeney said the festival planners should look at more inexpensive ways to advertise. “In the future, we see the TDC’s place to be to help publicize events and to work with the planners to help make events grow.”
Everett said the purpose of the TDC is not to support community events, but rather to attract visitors to the county, hopefully to stay in hotels and eat at local restaurants.
Lopez noted that the Sunshine State Pit Bull Terrier Competition, held on March 30 in Wausau, filled three hotels with visitors and drew 592 people to the event.
“They could have filled more, but those were the only hotels that accepted pets,” Lopez said. “She had to send the rest of the people to Marianna or Bonifay hotels.”