Veterans Rally Leader Issues Ultimatum Over Festival Funding

Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Won’t Make a Return Without City Money

Trevor Phipps

With the budget season looming for local municipalities, the question of whether or not to fund events has already hit center stage in Woodland Park, even prior to any official fiscal decisions.

The Salute to American Veterans Rally has emerged as the main event in question for the City Above the Clouds, with a variety of clashing opinions, mostly dealing with the fiscal side of the several-day festival.

Some on the council believe that taxpayer dollars should not go towards funding events, especially when the city provides in-kind services for these functions. Others, though, contend that certain “legacy” events that help attract people to area businesses are worth a small investment from the city.

However, it was made clear during the last council meeting that certain aspects of the Salute to American Veterans Rally may not happen, if the council changes its stance on providing financial help for the Rally event. According to the organizer of the event, Jim Wear, president of ProPromotions, the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall has only been able to make its trip to the City Above the Clouds due to funds from the city and private donors. The Traveling Memorial Wall was displayed at the Woodland Park Middle School football field for several days, and was one of the Rally’s most popular attractions.

At a recent meeting, Wear presented to the council how the city money for the event is used.  He also said that next year the Vietnam Wall might not be able to be a part of the Rally festival, like it has years in the past.

He said that this year marked the 15th  appearance of the Traveling Memorial Wall, meaning that it has been in Teller County more times than anywhere else in the state. He said that the reason the wall has made its way to Woodland Park the last two years was because a resident approached the rally organizers and asked why the wall was not part of the Rally lineup in 2021, when it used to be displayed in the Cripple Creek/Victor district. This was when southern Teller hosted the festival for several decades.

Wear said that the resident donated $10,000, which was split over the last two years. For the last two years, the group used $5,000 from the resident’s donation and fundraised the rest of the $12,000 price tag from local businesses.

“That resource is now gone, so at this point we have to tell council that the traveling wall will not appear at next year’s event,” Wear said.

2023 Rally Described as Big Success

On the upside, Wear, during his recent presentation, thanked the council and the city for their help in putting on the event over the summer that experienced good numbers. He also presented a plaque to the council members.

Overall, Wear said that the event went well without any issues. He said that there were no issues with police, and his staff only received one complaint over road closures.

Wear said that the annual recognition ride(between Woodland Park and Cripple Creek) had more than 800 motorcycles and 1,000-plus participants,  and that it took place without any issues. He also described what the $1,000 from the city for that event paid for.

“We are extremely grateful for the $1,000 contribution from the signature events fund and we wanted to report that that money was used directly to pay the Colorado State Patrol for the permit to close Hwy. 24 and for the two trooper, two car escort for the ride,” Wear explained. “None of the city’s cash contributions were retained by the event organizers.”

He also said that the ride would be taken over by the Veterans for Veterans Organization next year. According to Wear, the nonprofit group, which helps homeless veterans, receives all of the money that is generated from the recognition ride.

He also said that the 21st annual Salute to American Veteran’s Rally as a whole went well and without any major issues. He said that the $2,000 for the rally went towards adding two new bronze plaques to the Veterans Memorial at the city’s Memorial Park.

He reiterated that none of the three cash contributions went directly towards the event’s organizers. He also mentioned how the rally did not generate as much for local veteran organizations due to rising costs of clothing and the lack of expendable income of event attendees.

“While we do not want to draw on the downsides of this year’s event, the official rally merchandise sales were substantially down again,” Wear said. “This year even with the great weather and improved attendance, the beer sales were also very slow for the nonprofit that runs the beer garden. Again, the attendees’ lack of disposal income as a result of across the board inflation and our own increase of costs for everything especially the merchandise made for lackluster sales.”

He explained that merchandise sales are the only source of income for Pro Promotions. All of the other funds get donated back to veteran organizations.

Wear said that Pro Promotions has come up with several ways to reduce costs for the event next year, including not printing the event program and only having it available online, reducing staff, producing less merchandise and eliminating the aircraft flyovers for the ceremony.

“After four years now of financial failure, for the rally portion of the (Salute to American) Veterans event, 2024 may unfortunately be our last rally here in Woodland Park unless we can somehow garnish additional financial support in the form of sponsorship from the city, county, or some private entity,” Wear said.

But he said that the group does plan on holding the event in Woodland Park again next year.