Budget Squeeze Threatens Great Falls Events

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – Residents and businesses of Great Falls are rallying to save local popular events from being canceled because the city can’t afford to put them on.

The Great Falls Fourth of July fireworks show, a skateboarding competition and the summertime River Fest all were in danger because of the economic downturn squeezed city budgets.

For now, the River Fest will not be held this year because of no city government backing, according to Marty Basta, city Park and Recreation director.

Basta said he hopes the event can make a comeback in 2010 if sponsors can be found.

“It was very popular and very well attended,” Basta said. “We’re not going to give up.”

However, the fireworks show and skateboarding competition will live on after private parties stepped up in a homegrown-style bailout.

Bennett Motors saved the fireworks by agreeing to pay $15,000 for the show. The company also joined with the city and a revitalized group, the People’s Park and Recreation Foundation, to raise money for future fireworks shows.

Cari Yturri, owner of Bennett Motors, said the company sales staff was “really disheartened” at the thought of losing the fireworks show, so staffers agreed to take the sponsorship money out of the dealership’s advertising budget.

Basta lauded the efforts of people and groups willing to pitch in during difficult economic times.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding to see the support and people willing to step up,” Basta said. “I think that says a lot about Great Falls.”

A Riverside Rail Yard Skate Park competition was held annually during River Fest. Even though River Fest won’t be held this year, skateboarder David Simmons is organizing a 2009 skateboard competition at the skate park.

Simmons wants riders to have something to look forward to toward the end of summer.

“All summer, the kids have incentive to do well and behave,” Simmons said of the motivation behind the event.

Simmons plans to charge a $10 entry fee for skaters, with half going to prizes for boarders, and the other half to go into a fund to make repairs at the skate park during the year. Simmons, 46, is a member of the city’s Park and Recreation advisory board and is one of the skate park’s older users.

Simmons said the city has agreed to provide the skate park venue for the competition.

“That’s as much as the city can do for me this year,” Simmons said, adding he needs to find a sponsor to pay $300 for liability insurance for the event, named the Riverside Rail Yard Ride Off.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.