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Knights Ferry Civil War Reenactment Cancelled
27-Year Event Ends Abruptly
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Union soldiers fire a cannon during one of the Civil War reenactment battles during the annual Knights Ferry Civil War Days. The event was abruptly cancelled for this year due to disagreements on permit conditions. LEADER FILE PHOTO

After more than a quarter-century, the celebrated Knights Ferry Civil War Days battle reenactments have been cancelled due to an apparent disagreement of terms in the operating permit.

This week a message on the website for the American Civil War Association read, “I’m sorry to announce that Knights Ferry has been canceled, due to new restrictions by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Please stay tuned for more information from the ACWA Board as it becomes available.”

No additional information was released.

“The conditions communicated to us, as we are told, are new and restrictive,” said Stephen Aguirre, President of the American Civil War Association when contacted on Thursday, Feb. 25.

Aguirre said that a Feb. 11 special permit meeting was held with representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and disagreements with the “internal workings” of the event occurred. With the meeting late in their planning schedule and the disagreements, the ACWA officials decided to cancel the event scheduled for March 19 and 20.

Luke Burns, spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers, said that nothing in the permit operating process for the ACWA has changed from any previous year.

Burns stated that ACWA was using a new event coordinator and during discussions it was requested that the US Army Corps of Engineers rangers do traffic control in and out of the event held near the Knights Ferry Covered Bridge.

“This isn’t something we would ever do and the rangers aren’t really trained to do as part of their duties,” Burns said. “The event is responsible for its own traffic control.”

Burns said that last year there had been some traffic issues that “got out of hand” and rangers did have to assist for public safety.

The primary issue was the ACWA’s practice of collecting “donations” at the entrance to the parking lot.

“It was being represented to visitors as a ‘parking fee’ leading people to believe it wasn’t something voluntary,” Burns said. “Our representative wasn’t saying they couldn’t collect donations, but just they couldn’t do it at the parking lot entrances to remove the perception that they were charging a parking fee.”

Burns said the ACWA was free to solicit donations throughout the area of the event, just not at the entrance, which also created some of the traffic issues.

“At that point (in the meeting) the American Civil War Association decided they didn’t want to hold the event,” Burns said. “This is not what we want at all. It’s popular in the local community.”

Aguirre said he believed it was clear to them that they would have to do their own traffic control and it wasn’t an issue as it appeared to him. Aguirre declined to comment on the subject of ACWA members taking “donations” at the parking lot entrances and the Corps of Engineers’ request that it discontinue.

On Friday, Feb. 26, Robert Orr of ACWA contacted The Leader stating he was the event coordinator doing the negotiations at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Orr stated there were additional issues with the permit meeting that hadn’t been disclosed by Aguirre and Burns.

Orr said there was a disagreement of when keys were to be turned in (5 p.m. Sunday vs. 5 p.m. Monday) and a concern about in-ground pits. During the meeting, according to Orr, those issues were resolved.

Orr confirmed there was a big disagreement over what he called a “parking toll donation” where ACWA members asked for a $5 donation.

“They would not allow us to ask at the parking entrance for a $5 donation we call a ‘parking donation’,” Orr said.

Orr was told there would be another contract drafted spelling out the restriction and he advised that the ACWA could not accept those terms.

“That’s 80 percent of our revenue,” Orr said. “They would not relent.”

Orr said he felt a female ranger doing the negotiation had been “lying” about hearing about people saying they were collecting a “fee” for parking.

Orr said he took the information about the meeting back to the ACWA Board of Directors, who made the decision to cancel the event at Knights Ferry.

It is unknown at this time if the ACWA will be back next year. Aguirre said he would not rule out the event returning, but their participation depended on the “restrictions” put in place by the Corps of Engineers.

Both sides expressed disappointment that the annual event – staged at Knights Ferry since 1989 – would not occur this year.

“We’re all disappointed here that the reenactment won’t occur,” Aguirre said of the event where “history comes alive.”

“It’s a shame,” Burns said. “It’s an incredible event that’s well attended at any of our parks, and lakes in the Sacramento District.”

Despite the bad news, Carolyn Hopkins stated the Knights Ferry Community Club will still hold its Civil War Days Spaghetti Feed Fundraiser on Saturday night, March 19.

“I think it’s a shame they’re not coming,” said Hopkins. “It was an enjoyable weekend that the whole community appreciated.”

Organizers of the spaghetti dinner said this is their largest fundraiser of the year as well, and they are hoping people will come to Knights Ferry to enjoy a day at the bridge and along the river, then stay to support their supper.