Harmony Park is on a hot seat

Published 10:03am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The top two officials of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office told county commissioners Tuesday they are fearful their deputies are being put in harm’s way when they are on patrol at music festivals at Harmony Park along the western shore of Geneva Lake.

The park is being advertised through social media as a place where drugs are OK, and the Sheriff’s Office does not have enough staff to adequately counter the activity taking place there, said Chief Deputy Glen Strom.

“I worry about the safety of the deputies and correctional officers all the time,” Strom said. “When they’re out at large events at Harmony Park, it’s concerning because they’re out there in limited numbers. A friendly crowd can turn hostile really quick if they feel they can get away with it.”

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners approved having a public hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 6 about whether to alter the park’s conditional-use permit.

Owner Jay Sullivan said he invited all of the commissioners to come out to the park and said between now and the August hearing he hopes there will be a time when he and the sheriff can meet to work out solutions.

“Although they’re serious problems, they’re not hard to remedy,” he said. “We’re working on a lot of the details right now.”

Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler raised concerns to county commissioners about the activity taking place at the park after multiple arrests took place at the music-and-camping venue Memorial Day weekend during the Bella Music Fest.

County officials are considering whether there should be changes to the park’s conditional-use permit, which addresses the rules governing the park.

Kindler said there have been problems at the park for several years, but the problems have grown exponentially in the last two years. Some festivals draw as many as 5,000 to 6,000 people from all over the country, and drug sales and purchases taking place at the park run the gamut from LSD and heroin to cocaine, bath salts, marijuana and methamphetamine, among others.

“Guns follow all drug transactions, and I’m very fearful of a serious event happening in that park if somebody loses control and starts shooting at people and we have a mass shooting incident,” Kindler said.

Though the Memorial Day festival was particularly troublesome, there are other mid-summer events that also cause problems, the sheriff said.

But the safety of the deputies is not the only concern at the park.

Strom said some participants from out of town at the festivals have been injured or have had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance, which in turn uses local taxpayer dollars. Some emergency responders have expressed concerns about their own safety in responding to the park.

“We cannot, as a county and people knowing that this type of behavior is going on, allow it to go on,” said Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson.

Until the August hearing, Nelson said, county staff and deputies will be monitoring the smaller musical events taking place at the park and plan to meet with Sullivan.

Sullivan has owned the park since 1996. It also hosts events such as weddings, wedding receptions, motorcycle rallies, horseshoe tournaments, performance arts retreats and family reunions. Tickets are sold out for Project Earth, a music festival slated to start Friday and end Sunday. Geneva Lake Jam, a one-night music show, takes place July 6.

  1. Gus Broten

    Stop worrying about the “what ifs” and do your fricken JOB………..what a joke!

  2. B. Babb

    I believe it IS law enforcement’s job to “worry about the ‘what ifs’ as part of their duties. What if a calm crowd of 5,000-6,000 gets a tainted (or intentionally bad) drug and becomes unruly and uncontrollable? What if the blaring music combines with these drugs and personalities unable to handle the combination?

    The article also does not mention, so it should be assumed, the minimal police enforcement is paid for by taxpayers (unless Harmony Park is paying for security). This means tax dollars are being spent on this function.

    I also wish they would revisit their permits and the noise levels and times. I don’t understand why it is necessary to have the music blaring so loud that it can clearly be heard in Clarks Grove (2-3 miles away) as well as around the lake in any direction the same distance (worse when the winds shifts it your way).

    Not everyone has a Monday – Friday 9-5 job. To allow this noise to intrude on the residents in the area until 1 am on the weekends is absurd. Does it HAVE TO BE THAT LOUD?! REALLY?!

    How come weddings, garden parties, and all other events do not require the blaring music, yet seem to be successful? If the party goers want to hear the music, GO TO THE STAGE and listen! If a citizen, in the same area, were to blare noise as loud that it can be heard at such a distance I am certain law enforcement would be notified. Why can a business do this and get away with it? Why can they (Harmony Park) interfere with the residents around the lake (and into Clarks Grove) and their peaceful enjoyment of their own property? I am not only talking about the constant boom, boom, boomda into the dark hours, but that it is so loud the lyrics can clearly be heard on occasion more than a mile away!!!! WHY?

  3. Winnie Goette

    Barb………how about the fair?.. Loud music and big ground…… How about these people that drive around with their boom boom car stereos…… And all the barking dogs…….. What about the guys who walk around with their pants hanging down to their knees…. They is always something around we don’t agree with!

  4. B. Babb

    It is correct, there are many things that drive people crazy. The fair and fairgrounds are a fight for the people there. However, how many fair goers are arrested for drugs? How rowdy is the crowd? Can the fairground music be heard MILES away? The shows end at what time? Certainly not 1 am in the morning! As far as the idiots who wear the baggie pants, while not my taste, it does not prevent my enjoyment of my property. Boom box cars typically only pass, while obnoxious for a few moments, it is not a constant boom, boom, boom, boom from Thursday evenings until Sunday night. This sound has started as early as 6 am on the weekends! Unaddressed are still the drugs, guns, and the potential for problems they possess. The fair is inside Albert Lea and Sheriff and city police are nearby. Harmony Park is 11 miles north and complaints are treated like – “oh well.” Harmony Park is large, why is the music there necessary to be SO LOUD? Let the crowds gather near the stage to hear the music. The fairgounds music is nowhere near the noise. If you don’t believe so, I invite you within 2 miles (downwind) of Harmony Park the next large event and then decide how you would like to live next to that. The fair is seven days. This is every major weekend during the summer and a few minor weekends. I will admit those closest to the fairgrounds may have more than they bargained for, but the fairgrounds isn’t what this article and issue is about, is it?

  5. Winnie Goette

    Yes the fair is only 1 week, but for that week I have heard lots of complaints…plus they have dances at the fairgrounds that get out of control…..as far as the cars with loud stereos, some don’t just drive by……and when your neighbor is one wearing the baggy pants it’s head to enjoy your own property!! I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with some of Harmony Parks entertainment…..I’m just saying look around….everyone has something to complain about.

  6. Honestly I really wish facts would be checked before claims are made! I’ve been attending/hosting events large (4000 NOT 5-6000 FYI) and small at Harmony Park for 16 years. Much of what the Sheriff’s department is saying is fear mongering. Talking about weapons in the park?! This isn’t the ghetto we’re talking about here. It’s not a secret that music festivals have ‘features’ that are not exactly compatible with the law as currently written especially when it comes to the accouterments of the party. The festival goers are likely to have any sort of drugs as well as alcohol to make for their good time. This sort of party has potential risks and yes, as claimed, we’ve had our fair share of arrests and need for ambulance due to people over-indulging.

    That is a problem and one we work on every year to combat (not just Harmony Park but every festival in the US and around the world) and will continue to do so BUT when the Sheriff starts talking about weapons and his officers being afraid in the park he is weaving a story that is just plain inaccurate. Harmony Park is, has always been and always will be a peaceful place. This is not a war zone and there is no chaotic mob that is going to up and riot. (Despite what you may believe no amount or “badness” of drugs is going to change that) There are kind and generous people who love music, love the park and yes love to party.

    This is also not some crack/smack den where a bunch of junkies are sitting around trying to OD. Sometimes someone takes too much or tries something they are prepared for and we have medical staff to care for them and security to keep them in line (illegal activities may not be aggressively pursued but are certainly not condoned or tolerated). Unfortunately there are occasionally situations where the in-park staff must get help from outside, but, for those of you worried about your tax dollars, as I recall we are fined for excessive calls and the perpetrators charged directly for most of those services. The officers roaming the park are there over and above the park provided and paid for security at their own volition. The profit made from the prosecution they seek out should more than cover their un-requested services.

    A small mention of the sound: for she who has questioned “Why don’t the fans go to the stage when they want to hear the music?” They do. Harmony Park is surrounded by lake and sound travels very easily across water. We keep the main stage PA to extremely tight volume controls (especially in recent years) and hold to tight curfews for amplified sound that are in line with the permits we have for these events. The PA used has even been changed in recent years to further reduce the sound travel (to the detriment of the sound quality in the concert field). In recent years we also have been aggressively curbing drum circles which I’m sure other residents will tell you were WAY more intrusive than the stage sound much of the time. I understand these policies / activities don’t help everyone but are very accommodating for the bulk of the local residents.

    Harmony Park is a home for myself and thousands of my fellow wanderers. It is a place of love and healing for most of its visitors and much is given back to the community. (Almost every major festival held at the park is a charity event not to mention the enumerable amounts of money spent by the attendees at local establishments) The threat of closure, especially in the face of such wildly incorrect rumors, should be evaluated with that in mind. I’m sure your neighbors who run these businesses would appreciate a better explanation for why their bottom line is being attacked.

    The park is a beautiful place. I strongly recommend checking it out (there are many non-festival times throughout the summer if festivals aren’t your thing). Jay has kept this a wonderful place that should be enjoyed by all not attacked by those who don’t understand it.