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‘Always on’ | Leavenworth switches festival strategy to avoid crowds, improve experience

LEAVENWORTH — The ceremonial countdown followed by the flip of a switch to reveal the Bavarian Village’s holiday lights on December weekends is giving way to a new “always on” approach introduced during the pandemic.

The reconfigured festival, now “Village of Lights” rather than “Christmas Lighting” is designed to avoid the massive weekend crowds that put pressure on safety, parking, traffic and the overall visitor and resident experience, according to chamber officials who announced the plan last week.

Those changes, according to the chamber’s news release, include “adding more light displays to the half a million-plus that already shine each year, activation of the Festhalle with activities, displays and entertainment, and adopting an ‘always-on’ approach to the lights, for that magical experience midweek as well as weekends.”

The same strategy will be applied to other chamber-sponsored events in January, February and May.

The change follows a comprehensive discussion by the chamber’s board, said chamber spokeswoman Jessica Stoller, which included looking at how to improve all the festivals, with an eye toward overall safety, crowd mitigation, and the event experience for our visitors and locals.

The idea is to level out the peak traffic and visitation times, she said.

“Instead of one weekend in May where we showcase Maifest traditions, we would have programming and activities every weekend” throughout the month, she said.

For the December holiday lighting festivities, specifically, that means a host of new activities, including:

  • A scavenger hunt and new lighting displays
  • Krampusnaucht — activities centered on the traditional German folklore character Krampus, a masked figure who scares children who misbehave
  • Letters to Santa
  • Gingerbread heart necklaces for children
  • A benefit gingerbread house construction competition
  • Opportunities to win a themed Christmas tree and accompanying gifts
  • Gift wrapping stations
  • Locally made ornaments for those shopping mid-week

“After a year without the festival, the board took thoughtful steps to evolve the event to be in line with the popularity of Leavenworth during the month of December,” Stoller said. “These changes, in conjunction with more holiday entertainment every hour at the gazebo on the weekends from noon to 8 p.m. and a series of new activities all month long, will help in our effort to mitigate crowd sizes, spread out the parking availability, elevate the experience for our visitors and locals and make better use of our public spaces.”

Specifics on the events planned for January and February are still being finalized.

The festival coordination will continue to require help from volunteers, she said.

“How many we need is an unknown right now and will reveal itself as planning continues,” she said. “We love our volunteers and they have always been a huge part of the event work we do.”

The future of Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest, which for more than two decades has taken place on three weekends in October, organized by the nonprofit Projekt Bayern, remains in limbo. It was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. A combination of the uncertainty about COVID-19 restrictions this fall and changes proposed by the city led to it being canceled again this year. The city of Leavenworth has since canceled Projekt Bayern’s contract to host the event, which had been in place since 2012.

The other traditional Bavarian Village event is the Autumn Leaf Festival, which includes a parade. It is organized by another nonprofit, the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival Association. It also was canceled last year because of the pandemic. According to its website, the festival is planned for Sept. 24, 25 and 26 this year. No other details have been posted.

Spring cleaning at a horse rescue in Orondo

ORONDO — A little over half a dozen volunteers arrived Saturday morning at the Trusting Spirit Horse Rescue ranch in Orondo to help out with some much-needed spring cleaning and repair.

Many volunteers took to the task of weeding the 18-acre ranch, home to the nonprofit that, since 2006, has been caring for neglected, abused or mistreated horses.

Volunteers also repaired a wind-damaged horse shelter and helped reinforce areas where the horses lean to reach plants outside the fence.

Chelan Middle School students Gracie Stocker and Teagan Hedrich chose to spend their Saturday helping out as they both enjoy horses, they said.

Both Gracie and Teagan got their hands dirty and green from pulling weeds, but Gracie said she didn’t really mind.

It’s for a good cause.

“We’re doing good for the amount of people here,” said Mckena Fraley of East Wenatchee who balances volunteer work with her full-time job at Pine Canyon Growers.

Fraley has been helping at the ranch almost every day before and after work since January 2020 — all out passion, she said.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I don’t really bat an eye on it,” Fraley said. “I enjoy it a lot so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s been a really good, learning experience. I don’t know where else I would have ever gotten to pick up and figure out all the things that I have from being out here.”

The nonprofit relies on the generosity of volunteers and donations to keep it going, said Cindy Wall, retired Wenatchee resident and the organization’s publicity coordinator.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, donations and volunteers began to dwindle, and the organization does not have the resources to hire employees. All donations go to care for the horses, Wall said.

The pandemic forced the nonprofit to cancel two annual fundraisers this past year. Saturday’s spring cleaning is one of the first times a sizable group of volunteers has been able to come out to help at the ranch, said Claudia Trapp, founder and chairman of the board.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Trapp said.

Trapp has a full-time job as a postmaster in Entiat and has been working with horses for most of her adult life, a desire that was spurred on since she never had the opportunity to own any horses as a child, she said.

“Now, look how many I have,” Trapp said.

The nonprofit’s goal is to find neglected, abused or mistreated horses, bring them back to health and try to find new homes for them. Trusting Spirit has six horses currently up for adoption. Some of them have been there for five to 10 years or were even born there.

When the organization became a nonprofit in 2006, 28 horses were in its care, Trapp said.

It was a frightening time to have so many horses that required care, especially as most volunteers and organization board members have full-time jobs, she said. They made it through then and have weathered the pandemic.

The work has been a rewarding experience.

“When we adopt one out and you find the perfect home, it makes it all worth it,” Trapp said. “A lot of long hours, no sleep, or you have a horse that’s ill and you gotta keep an eye on it and it’s below zero, you do it. You just do it. There’s not much time to think about whether I’d like to or not. It’s definitely a commitment you can’t renege on.”

Trusting Spirit Horse Rescue only takes in horses through the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society and other agencies. Due to limited funds, sometimes the organization is required to triage its care and resources, according to Wall. That means they might have to turn away some horses.

The goal is to bring a horse back to health so it can be adopted, but if one horse requires too much care or surgery, that could take away resources from the other horses, resources that are already limited, Wall said.

The organization could provide help to more horses if they have enough donations to support the work, Wall said. For information, go to trustingspirithorserescue.org.

“Get out here,” Fraley said. “Get involved. It’s a great environment. You learn so much. The horses have so much to teach us. You definitely won’t regret it.”

Disasters show flaw in $1.7 trillion plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three times this year, major pieces of U.S. infrastructure have failed: first the Texas power grid, then the East Coast’s main gasoline pipeline, then a freeway bridge over the Mississippi River. The crises disrupted businesses and lives, cost billions and left more than 150 Texans dead.

President Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion infrastructure package wouldn’t necessarily have prevented any of those failures.

It wouldn’t have stopped the hackers who shut down the Colonial Pipeline for days, closing gas stations across the Southeast. While the hack may push the federal government to enforce pipelines’ cybersecurity, the administration bill is silent on that issue.

Tennessee officials could have applied under Biden’s plan for funding to repair Memphis’s Hernando De Soto Bridge, where the discovery of a cracked and almost-severed steel beam last week closed the Mississippi to barge traffic. But inspections failed to register the damage, even though it’s visible in drone footage from 2019.

As for Texas, the White House says part of the administration plan could help weatherproof the electrical grid. But it’s unclear whether that funding would extend to power plants and gas pipelines that malfunctioned during February’s brutal cold snap, plunging millions into darkness. The companies that own those plants and pipes had ignored previous warnings to weatherize, deeming the work too costly.

The recent failures illustrate just how many ways the patchwork systems can break. Experts say they also illustrate a long-running flaw in the way the U.S. thinks about and pays for infrastructure: The country focuses more on building new things rather than maintaining what it has.

Much of the current debate in Washington has hinged on what actually counts as infrastructure in Biden’s plan: Child-care centers? High-speed internet? But the arguments overlook the fact that neither public officials nor the invisible hand of the market has kept our existing steel and concrete intact.

“We are not lacking financial resources here in the United States, in the slightest, to make the investments we need to avert many if not most of the most extreme infrastructure consequences,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “All three of those examples are ones where we had the resources to avoid failures. It’s prioritization.”

There’s also the question of who controls spending — government, private industry or a combination of the two. All three approaches have blemished records, with public officials and corporate executives alike forgoing work for their own reasons. Republicans have balked at the scope of Biden’s proposal, and are expected to offer a narrower alternative that would promote partnerships with companies. Interest on both sides of the aisle may yield a deal despite the hyperpartisan climate.

“There’s as much urgency as we have ever had, at least in recent years, because Biden has focused on it,” said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department. “It’s very rare you see a president set a goal in his first term and he isn’t going to do everything in his power to make it happen.”

Making up for deferred public spending is one reason the Biden plan carries such a hefty price. Government officials famously love to be seen opening a new bridge or road but often don’t give maintenance the year-to-year funding it needs. Repaving streets or replacing tainted water pipes don’t always seem like priorities.

“One of the easiest things to defer, if your state or locality is having a bad budget year, is maintenance on your infrastructure — ‘We’ll do it next year,’” said R. Richard Geddes, founding director of the Cornell University Program in Infrastructure Policy.

The private sector’s record is little better. The Texas power plants and gas pipelines knocked out in the February storm are, like most of America’s energy infrastructure, privately owned. When a similar cold snap 10 years ago triggered blackouts, owners were warned to winterize their plants and pipes. No one in the state’s government forced them to do the work.

The Colonial Pipeline also is in private hands, even though it’s essential to the U.S. economy. The 5,500-mile system, which supplies almost half the fuel consumed on the East Coast, is owned by an arm of Koch Industries, a Royal Dutch Shell Plc unit and a group of fund managers. The owners are responsible for protecting it from cybercrime, like the ransomware attack that forced the pipeline’s closing last week, shuttered gas stations and prompted fuel-hoarding. The owners paid $4.4 million to end the attack.

Biden’s plan calls for boosting cybersecurity on the electricity grid, through $20 billion in grid modernization block grants. But the federal government doesn’t oversee cybersecurity of gas pipelines. A manufacturing trade group this week called on Congress to fix that by giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority over pipeline cybersecurity and setting mandatory requirements for operators. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday that the federal government may need to impose such standards.

“One wonders whether it is time we match what we are doing on the electric side with what we do on the pipeline side,” Granholm told a congressional panel.

Biden’s plan does focus much spending on repairing government-owned infrastructure that has slid into disrepair. The ill-starred De Soto Bridge illustrates why.

On May 11, an inspector spotted a gaping crack in a beam beneath the bridge, which carries I-40 over the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. Auto traffic was halted, and the Coast Guard closed the river below. More than 1,000 barges, carrying grains and soybeans to New Orleans for export, lined up along the banks.

The Coast Guard let barge traffic resume Friday morning, but the timeline for restarting vehicular traffic over the span, where thousands of trucks typically cross each day, remains undetermined.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, criticized Biden’s plan for designating only 5.6% of funds toward bridges and roads. “While Congress ponders the definition of infrastructure, we call upon the federal government to prioritize the safety of actual roads and bridges,” Lee said in a release.

Emilie Simons, a spokeswoman for the White House, said the administration’s plan would help.

“This bridge is the kind of regionally significant bridge that could be considered for funding under the large bridge program proposed by the American Jobs Plan,” she said in an email. “This is just one example of our nation’s significant and growing infrastructure needs resulting from decades of declining federal investment.”

Tomer of Brookings said he sees signs that officials in both parties are starting to understand the need for a different approach, one that focuses more on outcomes rather than simply building something new.

“These are generational, cultural changes that we need,” he said. “There’s too much of a ‘manifest destiny’ mindset in American infrastructure — this idea that we will inherently grow outward. And that is not appropriate for the economic, demographic or environmental moment we live in.”

Wenatchee brings back elementary school assistant principal jobs

WENATCHEE — Elementary school assistant principal posts — eliminated during Wenatchee School District budget cuts in 2018 — are making a comeback.

The district announced this week that six elementary school assistant principals have been hired for next year, along with one middle school assistant principal. The six elementary positions are new hires, while the middle position is a replacement.

It is unusual to hire seven new assistant principals at one time, said district spokeswoman Diana Haglund, but the budget allowed the district to return some needed positions that provide an extra level of support to students and staff.

“In 2018, due to budget reductions, we had to eliminate those positions. Since that time, we have really seen the need to make sure we have these positions in place to not only support our building principals as instructional leaders but to provide that additional level of leadership and relationship building,” Haglund said.

Previously two elementary assistant principals were splitting duties at two schools. One assistant principal worked part-time at Mission View and part-time Washington, while another assistant principal split time at Columbia and Lincoln.

Haglund said the school district prioritized adding those positions back into the schools, not as half-time splits, but as full-time leaders in the buildings.

The new elementary school assistant principals are:

  • Columbia Elementary: Lydia Cluckey-Oaks, currently a preschool teacher, dean of students and principal intern at North Beach School District in Ocean Shores.
  • Lewis and Clark Elementary: Mario Avila, a fourth-grade teacher at Mission View Elementary.
  • Lincoln Elementary: Jesica Bryant, a special education coordinator for the Wenatchee School District.
  • Mission View Elementary: Donna Limon, a kindergarten teacher at Lewis and Clark.
  • Newbery Elementary: Amy Dilley, an instructional coach at Washington Elementary.
  • Washington Elementary: Ryan Weaver, an intervention specialist at Columbia Elementary.
  • The seventh new assistant principal hired, Joshua Eidson, is filling a vacancy at Orchard Middle School created when current Janelle Royster was hired as the new principal at Washington Elementary School. Eidson is currently an assistant principal at Kentridge High School in the Kent School District.

“We’re excited to welcome these new educational leaders to our schools. As part of the building leadership team, they will play a crucial role in supporting equitable outcomes for students and enhancing relationships with staff and families,” Wenatchee Superintendent Paul Gordon said this week in a news release.

Most of the new assistant principals are in-district hires. Haglund said the school district went through a lengthy application and interview process with a lot of applicants internally and externally.

“We are really excited to be able to develop many of our leaders from inside the district, so that is a real positive thing for us,” Haglund said. “It’s a great opportunity to have many of our educators coming out of the classroom that have their credentials as principals and have a lot of leadership experience under their belts really to step into that leadership role.”