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Rooster Walk venue change OK'd

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rooster Walk 6 in May will once again take place at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds, but the music festival could move to a new location in the future.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), board members voted to allow a special use permit that would enable organizers to hold the festival at a new location in Axton.

Johnny Buck, who co-founded Rooster Walk with William Baptist, said the goal is to hold Rooster Walk 7 at the new location in 2015, although that date hinges on fundraising.

“We still have to go through the task of raising the money to build the stages and the proper infrastructure to turn this piece of property in Axton into a festival venue,” Buck said. “Right now it’s a beautiful piece of land that has amazing potential to become a festival venue, but we’re not there yet.”

The new location, which is owned by Rooster Walk Inc. board member Jay Frith, is a roughly 159-acre property at 675 Hobson Road in the Iriswood District.

Buck told the BZA that as the annual music and arts festival has grown, it has begun approaching the upper limits of Blue Mountain Festival Grounds’ capacity. Blue Mountain is just across the Henry County-Franklin County line on Coopers Mountain Road.

Buck said he and Baptist “have always said that if we were ever going to move away from Blue Mountain Festival Grounds, we would definitely want to make sure the new venue was inside the geographic confines of Martinsville/Henry County, because we promote the festival as a Martinsville/Henry County event.”

According to Buck, last year’s Rooster Walk 5 drew more than 3,500 people over the course of the weekend festival, making it a significant tourist attraction for the area.

Henry County Planning Director Lee Clark suggested two conditions to the special use permit, both of which the board approved.

Firstly, he recommended that any increase in the acreage of the use beyond what was requested — with the exception of parking — require another visit to the BZA to amend the permit.

Secondly, Clark said that although he knows of no plans by Rooster Walk Inc. to offer more than one public event per year at the site, he recommended that the permit be limited to two events per year. In that way, he said, if an enticing opportunity were to come along, the nonprofit would have the flexibility to offer a second event per year without having to get additional approval from the BZA.

Clark also mentioned that BZA Chairman Manker Stone, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting due to inclement weather, had recommended that Buck and Baptist establish a relationship with the Axton Volunteer Fire Department in order to have a fire department presence at the festivals.

Clark said that Stone also had wondered if campers at Rooster Walk festivals were allowed to build campfires, or if the festival allowed only a central bonfire.

Baptist said currently, campers are not allowed to build their own campfires. Instead, the festival offers two to three bonfires.

Baptist added that “in addition to our staff ... we do have professional security as well as a group of people that are called ‘camp rangers’ that go to different events that are similar to ours all over the East Coast. Their main priority is to keep the campgrounds safe at all hours of the day or night.”

However, Baptist said, organizers still would plan to reach out to the Axton Volunteer Fire Department, as “having the fire department there would absolutely make us feel more comfortable.”

Rooster Walk was created in memory of Edwin “The Rooster” Penn IV and Walker Shank, late childhood friends of Buck and Baptist and members of Martinsville High School’s class of 2000. Proceeds from the festival go to the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund at Martinsville High School.

Over the last five years, Buck said, the festival has raised more than $27,000 for the scholarship fund.


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