AUSTIN (KXAN) - The beloved Zilker Kite Festival needs some wind beneath its wings. The nation's oldest kite festival started on the banks of the Colorado River back in 1929.
Since then, the event has grown to the point that it now attracts in the neighborhood of 20,000 people to Zilker Park every spring, putting it among the top five festivals in the country.
But it costs a lot of money to support those kinds of crowds and to keep the people safe. In a down economy, organizers are having trouble raising that money. They do not, however, plan to stop trying.
"We're going to make it happen," said festival co-chair Dorsey Twidwell. "We're going to get the $60,000 we need to run this festival."
Twidwell and his wife, Bunnie Twidwell, have been leading the effort to stage the event for more than a decade. They do so, though, with enormous help from their fellow members of the Exchange Club of Austin . It was that civic organization that started the kite festival 83 years ago and it is that organization that continues it today.
For most of the festival's history, club members themselves did the hands-on work of directing traffic, erecting barricades, providing for security and safety. But as the city grew and the festival's popularity increased, all that got to be too much for a volunteer group. So, outside companies were needed to meet the challenges of running a modern, big-time outdoor recreational event.
Plus, as the economy dipped, the city started requiring fees for various services at Zilker Park.
And to make matters even more difficult, the Exchange Club doesn't just do all this for the fun of it. The kite festival, during the last decade, has raised lots of money for community needs.
"For the last 10 years," said Twidwell, "we've raised over $200,000 for local charities for the prevention of child abuse and scholarships for kids who've overcome some difficulty in their life and are going on to college.
"We do it by selling hot dogs. We sell T-shirts. We ask our vendors to give us a percentage of their sales. We have some wonderful sponsors who've stuck with us for years."
And the city has also been helpful.
"I assure you, we could not do it without Parks and Rec 's help," Twidwell said. "The logistics and the infrastructure they provide is not something a 501(c)(3), all-volunteer organization can do."
And now, City Council member Chris Riley is proposing a resolution that would make Austin an official co-sponsor of the festival. That could help with the fees, but more would still be needed.
"I think we have some real sympathetic ears (on the council)," Twidwell said, "and I think things are going to turn out OK. But even if the city provides everything it can, we still need a whole lot of money.
"Even if we don't have to pay any city fees, two-thirds of our budget we still have to get covered somehow."
So the Exchange Club hired Corcoran & Company , a professional fund-raising firm, to put some serious muscle behind the effort to keep the kites flying. The club and the company signed a contract, but already, the Corcoran people are going above and beyond its terms. It seems they have come to simply adore the club members and the work they do for the community.
"They don't do this event for publicity or fame," said Corcoran's Donna Emery. "They're actually quite embarrassed by it. They do it simply because they want to make a difference for kids and they believe flying kites in the park is the way to do it.
"We are so emotionally connected and we have fallen just really in love with this organization and what they do for the city that we're going to do whatever we can to make it successful. If that means going beyond the contract, well, sometimes you've just got to do what's right for the client."
Armed with that kind of support, Twidwell is optimistic. He's also a realist and he knows it may be necessary for the kite festival to ride out the winds of economic downturn.
"If we don't have as much to give the charities next year," he said, "we just won't give as much and we'll figure out a way to do it better the next year."
But the Exchange Club is determined keep its pride and joy from going the way of the city's now cancelled "First Night" New Year's Eve and Christmas "Trail of Lights" festivals.
"We have a whole lot of people over the years that have given a whole lot of their hearts and souls to keep this event going," Twidwell said. "We will keep it going!"
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