UPDATED: Brown Trout Festival future in doubt
ALPENA — The Michigan Brown Trout Festival Board will have a serious discussion at its meeting next month whether or not to continue to host the long-running festival.
The board could vote to end the festival, which was established in 1975, or to make significant changes.
Brown Trout President Peggy Donakowski said this year’s festival in Alpena will kick off as planned on Friday, but the future of the 10-day event is in jeopardy because there aren’t enough volunteers to properly staff the event.
Donakowski said local charitable groups and organizations typically pledge volunteer hours to pour drinks, sell raffle and event tickets, work merchandise booths, and perform a host of other tasks.
She said it was a struggle to get help this year. As such, she said there will be a shortage of volunteers during the event at the boat harbor and more than 50% of the volunteer hours that were pledged need to be filled.
“When this festival is done, we’re going to consider whether or not we will have any more festivals,” she said. “We just don’t have the volunteers. We have been begging for volunteers. We can make plans until the cows come home, but, if we don’t have the bodies to execute those plans, what else are we supposed to do?”
Donakowski said, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s festival, the number of people fishing in the tournament and attending the other festival events had been strong.
The festival is strong financially, she said, but, without people helping out, the money does little good in making the event a reality each year.
“Our community support is still very strong, and the people are all for having it,” she said. “We have never had so many sponsors, but the people also need to step up and volunteer if we want to keep it around.”
Donakowski said the board could also decide to only have a fishing tournament and do away with the entertainment aspects of the festival.
Even so, Donakowski said, a lot of volunteers would be needed, and she is unsure if enough could be recruited to operate the tournament.
“We will still need people, because the fishing director can’t do it alone,” she said. “They aren’t long shifts, and you’re not down here for 12 hours at a time. A lot of the time you’re just sitting and selling shorts, tickets, or doing some light work.”
It isn’t the first time the board has considered ending the festival or altering it. Each time the idea was met with public outcry to preserve the event and volunteers were found to keep the event going.
In 2020, during the heart of the pandemic, the Brown Trout Board decided against setting up the big tent where the larger-scale entertainment events occur, due to safety concerns, and a shortage of volunteers. The large tent returned last year but with a more limited entertainment schedule.
Now, Donakowski said it is time for the next generation of volunteers to step up and support the community and the events like the festival.
“There are some young volunteers stepping (up), but not enough. The bottom line is we need people,” she said. “That is why we are going to discuss this next month if we are going to be able to continue doing this.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer can call Donakowski at 989-464-5440.