By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — Crying children, frustrated parents and many complaints directed at the Amesbury Sports Park threaten to overshadow Saturday’s cancer-related fundraiser that garnered more than $30,000 and drew thousands of people to the South Hunt Road facility to take part in the first of its kind Eggdrop-Palooza.
The event, which featured a helicopter dropping thousands of candy-filled plastic Easter eggs to be picked up by children ages 1 to 18 as quickly as possible, was created to raise money for local charity Lucy’s Love Bus. The charity, whose goal is to comfort to children with cancer through grants for integrative therapies, was founded by Lucy Grogan who died six years ago of leukemia at age 12, four years after being diagnosed. Today, the charity is run by Lucy’s mother, Beecher Grogan, who coordinated Eggdrop-Palooza.
Beecher Grogan said all 5,000 advance sales tickets sold out quickly. An additional 500 tickets were made available the morning of the egg drop, but those too sold out quickly. That didn’t stop thousands of non-ticket holders from arriving at the park, overwhelming parking lots and creating massive traffic jams that stretched all the way back onto Interstate 495, prompting the state police to intervene.
Amesbury Sports Park director of sales Meredith Robinson yesterday admitted to problems related to the event and said officials would be sifting through the aftermath to ensure the next large-scale event runs smoother.
“Of course there are things we could have done differently,” Robinson said. “There’s always something to learn and we’d be absolutely foolish not to look into it.”
Immediately following Saturday’s event, Grogan and Amesbury Sports Park officials took to Facebook to issue lengthy apologies.
“That extra traffic quickly filled up our designated parking lots. In an effort to move vehicles more quickly, we made parking free in many lots and pulled volunteers from other areas to meet the increased demand, but long wait lines in traffic and for shuttles were experienced by many people. This is a first time event for Lucy’s Love Bus at the Amesbury Sports Park and we will be meeting with the event organizers this evening to conduct a comprehensive review of the event, and review all necessary changes that would be required for all future events. Despite their best efforts and meticulous planning, some hard lessons were learned today,” according to a message written by Amesbury Sports Park officials and placed on its Facebook page.
Yesterday, Grogan admitted the event didn’t run as smoothly as she had hoped, leading to much of the frustration exhibited by parents and their children. Grogan pointed to a lack of volunteers and parking, pushing and shoving in the egg drop field, the lost child area being too far away from the egg drop field and parents separated from their children as lessons to be learned.
“Parents surged the field, chaos ensued,” Grogan said. “It’s just so unfortunate.”
Robinson praised Grogan and Lucy’s Love Bus organizers for stepping aside when events began to spiral out of their control, and allow trained sports park staff to “minimize damages and turn things back on track.”
Grogan said she would be interested in hosting other fundraisers at the sports park but not an egg-drop, adding that egg-drops are about greed and grabbing while her daughter’s charity were about generosity, love and caring.
“And those two things don’t go hand-in-hand,” Grogan said.
The event raised $30,600, enough to help 30 children, far more than the $20,000 organizers had hoped to raise. The charity awards $1,000 grants to children to help pay for therapies such as horseback riding, acupuncture, art and dance which help children manage side-effects of cancer treatments.
A check of the Amesbury Police Department’s public log during the event showed multiple 911 calls, including some from parents reporting their child was missing. According to police records, all children were reunited with their parents.
Amesbury police Chief Mark Gagnon said police issued a detail for the South Hunt Road/Pond View Avenue intersection and responded to all emergency calls but that was the limit of their involvement.
“They all had the right motive, but it just didn’t turn out as they intended,” Gagnon said of event organizers. “It got beyond their control.”
Gagnon added that his department will soon be meeting with park officials and the mayor’s office regarding what transpired during the event and what can be done to make the next large-scale event at the park run as smoothly as possible.
Robinson confirmed Gagnon’s statement but added post-event meetings are conducted with police and city officials regardless of outcome.
“That’s a normal course of business for us,” Robinson said.
The Amesbury Sports Park, which has been operating a popular snow tubing business during the winter, has hosted several large-scale events during off-seasons, including several muddy obstacle events under the names Spartan Race or Warrior Dash and a beer festival with live music.
Most of the large scale events, some drawing more than this weekend’s egg dropping event, have gone on without much incident. But in some cases, be it poor weather or not enough parking, the events have caused many of the same traffic and parking headaches.
Last September, more than 11,000 people participated in the 5K Color Run which began on Merrill Street and ended at the sports park. A traffic nightmare ensued when two accidents on Interstate 495 prompted the highway’s closure causing traffic to be re-routed through Amesbury clogging Route 110 from South Hunt Road to Salisbury.
In June 2011, heavy downpours and a crowd estimated at 35,000 created a logistical nightmare for event organizers and Amesbury Sports Park officials. Traffic troubles were exacerbated by an unforeseen lack of parking as heavy downpours turned two designated parking lots into large mud pits, forcing organizers to close them. Dozens of cars already parked in the lots were unable to leave under their own power and needed to be towed out by a small fleet of trucks.
Yesterday Gagnon said that the sports park may be holding events that are simply too much for a small city like Amesbury to absorb without incident.
“Some of the events are probably a little too big for Amesbury,” Gagnon said.