By Kristin Fox
The increase in the number of large events and 5K races in downtown Sylva as well as heightened concern for safety at these events, prompted city officials to act last September to update the park application procedure for outdoor events. During two downtown events in the past, safety incidents occurred after which Sylva town staff realized that measures needed to be taken to make these events safer for the public.
The first incident happed at the first Sylva Pride event held in 2021 when a car didn’t realize there was a parade and followed closely behind the group that was walking; the second incident happened during the Walk for Hope when a driver wasn’t aware of the event and backed their car out of a Main Street parking space during the event.
The town board has always approved temporary road closure permits for special events that stop, block or detour traffic on state-maintained roads. Once an event has town approval for street closure, the town requests and formally notifies the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for the closure of the street. The new updates now state that only town-sponsored events can warrant closing Main Street. The town’s use of the word sponsor is in keeping with the state terminology when referring to road closures. The town staff can still approve park rentals but the authority for road closure belongs to the town.
Currently, the town closure permits include the annual Christmas parade and Greening up the Mountains Festival. In addition, the town allows road closure for Western Carolina University’s homecoming parade which is worked by the WCU Police Department and the Veteran’s Day Parade which is assisted by Jackson County. The town also allows for closure of Main Street for July 4th for a temporary detour during the fireworks if necessary.
The last two falls, Sylva Pride has held a Sylva Pride Parade in the downtown area on Main Street and has requested the town consider its annual event as one of its sponsored events. With the new updates to the park application, the group has requested from the town a permit to close Main Street for the third annual parade to be held on September 9, 2023.
The town board voted unanimously at their regular meeting last week to adopt a resolution stating the town agrees to be the sponsoring governmental entity for the Pride parade to be held in downtown Sylva. The town will request the NCDOT to allow for the closure of Main Street and the rerouting of traffic for the Pride parade.
As stated in the resolution, the Town of Sylva “accepts full responsibility for the special event and recognizes that the Town of Sylva will be responsible for safety, traffic flow, traffic control, signage and ensuring the decorations and all debris will be removed following the event,” the same as for the Christmas parade and Greening Up the Mountains.
The parade will be held from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. and will originate at Bridge Park and travel to the intersection of Grindstaff Cove Road. The parade will turn onto Grindstaff Cove Road and proceed up Schulman Street to Main Street. The parade will then turn onto Main Street and proceed south to the intersection of Spring Street. The parade will turn onto Spring Street and travel to Mill Street across to Allen Street and back down Railroad Avenue. Traffic will be paused at each intersection during the parade.
Town-sponsored events requiring street closure use a lot of town resources including the extra time of administration, public works, and police. There are also extra expenses for the town as these events often require overtime pay for hourly town employees. As previously stated, during town-sponsored events requiring street closure, the town is responsible for safety, traffic flow, traffic control, signage and ensuring the decorations and all debris will be removed following the event.
“Closure permit is saying that you will accept that you’ll staff it, you’ll provide the police, the cones, signage and whatever is necessary to make it safe,” said Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton. “Safety things have to happen for a road closure.”
“We have to pay attention to the climate in our country right now and what happens at large events,” he added “I’m not saying that it’s going to happen here, but you can’t say that it’s not going to happen here either. So, you have got to be very careful about every entryway for a vehicle that could enter into a crowd. For this event, there’s controversy with some people there, so you really have to be paying attention to that as well.”
“I want to say how much I appreciate Sylva Pride and the pride committee for working with the town,” said Town Commissioner Ben Guiney. “It’s been a great parade and event; it has been a loving, happy time inside the festival, it’s such a great feel. I’m so excited to have this again and I hope to see it grow in the future.”
“I think what we are experiencing are some growing pains,” said Town Mayor David Nestler. “We have gone from having a few events a year to now we have around eight and they keep coming. Acknowledging that this does put a burden on our staff, I think we do need to start being a bit more selective on our road closures for events. I would like to see this be one of the street closures.”
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