Oz Fest in Chesterton reaches the end of its yellow brick road
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent February 12, 2013 2:54PM
Movie characters talk with Haley Hardin, 4, of Chesterton, as they all mingle in front of the Skyline Snowie shaved ice booth during the Wizard of Oz Festival in downtown Chesterton, Ind. Friday September 14, 2012. The annual festival kicks off with an official opening ceremony Friday afternoon and includes autograph sessions and character appearances. The popular parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday followed by many other events through Sunday. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:31AM
CHESTERTON — Will flying monkeys again land here come September?
Only if someone steps up to take over the Wizard of Oz Festival from the Duneland Business Initiative Group, which announced Monday it would no longer sponsor the event. The festival brings tens of thousands of people to town the second weekend in September each year.
“It’s a fabulous event. It’s great, but to run it, it’s just very, very difficult,” said Machelle Blount, president of the business group, which on Monday posted a “Farewell to Oz” letter to the public on its website, www.dunebig.com.
The group ran the festival, in addition to several other events, for four years, with the hope that another organization would take it over. That hasn’t happened, Blount said, and the festival is just too much work for her to handle along with her other responsibilities.
Fewer celebrity appearances by surviving Munchkins, less volunteer and other support, and even the loss of an Oz-based fan group from the festival, who Blount said were some of its biggest promoters, all made continuing the festival that much more difficult.
“We are retiring — not ending — the festival, and I don’t think anyone can run it unless they’re paid,” Blount said.
Jean Nelson, who owned the Yellow Brick Road Gift Shop, founded the festival in 1981. It was held by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce for many years before shifting to Lakeshore Festivals and Events, which eventually moved the event to the Porter County Expo Center for a few years. It then returned to downtown Chesterton and the business group took it over.
The business group has done a terrific job with the festival, said Heather Ennis, executive director of the chamber, and she lauded the group for bringing the event back to downtown Chesterton.
The chamber gave up hosting the festival because it took up so much time and was a benefit to only a small percent of the chamber’s members, Ennis said.
“If another group wanted to take it on, we’d be supportive of that,” she said.
The “Wizard of Oz” book and movie keep the spirit of the story alive, Blount said, and the end of the festival wouldn’t bring an end to that.
“It doesn’t mean you have to have festivals to keep the memory alive,” she said.