- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Folks at Evel Knievel Days in Butte mostly behaved themselves and took delight in record-setting stunts that included a flying semi-truck and a car launching into the air backwards.

But unannounced street closings, trucks and dirt piles blocking traffic, last-minute changes and close calls have some officials wondering if Uptown Butte and East Park Street can take this event anymore.

“The impact on residents and local businesses other than bars and the historic infrastructure of Uptown is just really hard, and it gets bigger every year,” Butte-Silver Bow Commissioner Cindi Shaw said Monday. “Now they have added an extra day to get ready so it’s almost a week. We need a better place for it.”

Public Works Director Dave Schultz said that conversation is worth starting.

“I think they (festival organizers) just had far more ambitious stunts than normal which required much bigger ramps and there was a much more ambitious schedule,” he said. “I just don’t know that we can do world-record jumps on East Park Street.”

Organizer Terri James sent The Montana Standard a letter to the editor saying the festival was “the biggest and most exciting to date.”

She thanked volunteers, Uptown business owners and police and firefighters. But she also acknowledged — — in so many words — — that not all went smoothly.

“This year’s production was huge, and at times, even bigger than we had planned on handling,” she wrote. “However, the results speak well of everyone’s efforts.”

As they lined up the extreme stunts, “there are issues that are very difficult to plan for and consider,” James said, and that’s why it was crucial to have support, patience and flexibility of Uptown business owners, residents and local government.

Two of the biggest crowd-pleasers were Gregg Godfrey jumping a semi-truck 166 feet Friday night and Bryan Spangler launching his car into the air backwards and traveling 126 feet Saturday night. Both were world-records set off of a giant dirt ramp built on East Park Street, and both thrilled the hundreds of onlookers.

But the semi-truck traveled far past concrete barriers meant to protect buildings on East Park Street and spun 180-degrees before stopping at the street curb. Spangler’s car knocked over one concrete barrier and skidded down two more, stopping only six feet from the Moonlight Professional Building, 480 E. Park St., where dozens of people stood.

When asked if spectators would be moved farther back next year, Sheriff Ed Lester said, “Yeah, well, hopefully we get some stunts that are a little more contained.”

Shaw said a section of East Broadway was blocked off for a while Thursday, and there was no way for cars to get in and out. That was partially corrected, she said, but some restaurants and businesses closed because of the event and she fielded numerous calls from upset constituents.

She said she is a big fan of motorcycles and has ridden them all her life, but she wants to sit down with county officials and Evel Knievel Days organizers to discuss changes needed next year. They might need to include a different location in Butte, perhaps a fairgrounds type of area, she said.

“It’s not like our music venues (Uptown) where everyone knows where they are going to be and they stand around and listen to music,” she said. “This is dirt piles and obstacle courses and big huge water tanks, and I think it’s hard on Uptown.”

Schultz said there were “ad hoc street closings” and he and Shaw said the confusion was compounded by two recent resignations. Parks Director E. Jay Ellington, who helped oversee festivals, resigned a few weeks ago and the county’s special events coordinator, Kelley Christensen, quit only days before the event.

“I think that was a pretty good piece of it (the confusion),” Schultz said.

He said there are a lot more businesses along East Park Street now, and it is not an ideal place anymore for the kinds of stunts done this weekend.

Gary Dudden, owner of Rocky Mountain Archery, 304 E. Park St., agreed. He said he has had to shut down early each night during the festival because the closures make it hard for customers to get in and out.

“There are more businesses here and more people and more danger to be pulling off these kinds of stunts,” he said. “There have to be some safer places.”

James said the magnitude of this year’s stunts and “their last minute confirmation left us little time to do everything we would have liked to have done, starting with better communication and outreach with East Park businesses.”

“We promise to be better in 2016,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, police said they made 54 arrests from midnight Thursday to midnight Sunday — 13 fewer than last year — and that’s typical of any four-day weekend.

“It was mainly too much alcohol being consumed and disorderlies — people getting into pushing-match arguments,” Undersheriff George Skuletich said Monday.

He said he guessed there were about 5,000 people at the festival Uptown on both Friday and Saturday night and said the weather could have played a part in fewer arrests.

“Some of these arrests aren’t associated with the festival,” he said. “I think weather and the crowds were a little bit smaller, I believe, especially Saturday night the crowds were quite a bit smaller.”

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