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Volunteers too few, too tired to continue cook-off

Volunteers too few, too tired to continue cook-off
The Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation’s annual barbecue cook-off has drawn folks to the La Vernia City Park for the past 13 years.

“We’re going to do something, but not the cook-off this year.”

Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation President Dennis Snow, tired and a bit sad, was reflecting on more than a dozen years of the foundation’s most successful event ...its summer barbecue cook-off.

For many area families, the Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation’s annual BBQ Cookoff has heralded the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year, as people flocked to the La Vernia City Park for barbecue and family fun. Teams from across Texas and the country have descended on the park for 13 years to compete for trophies and the title of best brisket, ribs, and chicken. Carnival rides and games entertained all ages, and food and craft vendors plied a variety of wares in the August heat.

Proceeds from the event have benefited the Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation, which has poured funds into city park improvements and amenities including the park’s gazebo, playscape, a butterfly garden, walking trail, fencing, and more.

“It was a party for most people!” Snow said. “But this year, it’s not going to happen.”

Snow said the popular event has grown too large for the foundation members to stage effectively. The small group of dedicated volunteers is tired, he said.

For members of the parks foundation, it was a yearlong effort, from securing the dates in the park to organizing portable toilets, contracting with a carnival provider, managing the barbecue team applications, training for and maintaining the license for beer sales, and sourcing security, to setting up the park and monitoring the event, and much more.

“The responsibilities are all year,” Snow said. “This often prevents us from doing stuff with our families.”

La Vernia Mayor Robert Gregory agreed.

“They work hard,” he said. “And these are often the same folks you see supporting all the local events the cook-off, HammerFest, church festivals, the Bluebonnet Fest.”

In addition to staging the cook-off, foundation members have largely contributed the labor to effect many of the park improvements they’ve funded, Snow said.

“They’ve put about $600,000 into the park,” Gregory said. “That’s money the city didn’t have, and work that just couldn’t have been done.”

The parks foundation will continue its efforts to improve the park. A current project is lighting for the walking trail.

And another seasonal event anticipated by community members ...the “Spirit of Christmas” tree lighting in December will continue, Snow said.

This annual event draws families to enjoy the park as the city’s official Christmas tree is officially lit by community members, selected by the parks foundation for their contributions to La Vernia. The foundation has produced “snow” for the event, so local children can enjoy the wintry white stuff, provided by machine.

“Some of the cook-off funds support that,” Snow said. “It’s all free ...our gift to the community for supporting the foundation and the cook-off.”

The city of La Vernia had considered taking on responsibility for the cook-off, which brings hundreds of people to La Vernia each year. The city council determined it could not do so. With the increase in sales-tax revenue in recent years, the city can almost budget for park improvements from such income an equivalent amount to the cook-off proceeds, Gregory said.

“The city will support other community events, such as Music Fest in April, the Bluebonnet Fest in May, and HammerFest in September,” Gregory said. “At this point, that will be our effort to raise La Vernia’s visibility.”

Snow agreed these events are good for the city. However, “These other events, they benefit the organizations that sponsor them,” he said. “The cook-off benefited the park.”

Right now, he said, Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation members are taking some time off from the cook-off to focus on their families, work, and businesses.

“A lot of people have come and told us thanks,” Snow said. “Most understand. They see the work that’s been accomplished.

“We do want to thank everyone ...our sponsors, the barbecue teams, the community for their support,” he added.

And the parks foundation is still here, still working.

“We’ll do something else,” Snow said. “Just not the cook-off. Not this year.”

For more about the Greater La Vernia Parks Foundation, visit www.lvpark.org.

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