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NWA editorial: The feathers fly ... again

Yellville can manage without turkey drop

What's feathered, has a beak, makes a gobbling sound and has all the characteristics of a hot potato? A wild turkey when it's dropped from an airplane and someone expects law enforcement to keep it from happening.

It's Turkey Trot Festival time in Yellville, where anyone looking for the time of the traditional drop of live turkeys from an airplane won't find it on the Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce's schedule of events. That's because it's not officially part of the annual festival, which is scheduled this weekend. The turkey drop, however, coincides with the town's big annual event.

What’s the point?

The people of Yellville have plenty to celebrate in their annual Turkey Trot Festival without continuing to allow an unnecessary dose of animal cruelty.

For more than five decades, someone has usually flown overhead, dropping the animals for all spectators on the ground to see. Most turkeys glide down and they're sometimes caught by people at the festival. Others haven't fared so well. Some reports of turkey deaths have been made.

The chamber rejects any responsibility for the practice, which has drawn complaints from people concerned about the animals' welfare. Then there's the other question: Just, why?

Dropping live turkeys out of a plane sounds like a one-time prank by drunken frat boys in "Animal House." That it has continued year after year for decades at this otherwise community-focused festival defies any reasonable explanation.

This year as in the past, animal welfare groups and individuals have lodged complaints, hoping the local sheriff will enforce laws meant to deter animal cruelty. The sheriff, Clinton Evans, says a deputy was put right on that important matter, but if anything turns up, he'd ask the Arkansas State Police to investigate.

A state police spokesman says it's the local law enforcement agency's jurisdiction.

The prosecutor, David Ethredge, told a reporter he can't do anything unless a law enforcement agency files an affidavit or misdemeanor citation.

Welcome to Yellville, home of the turkey-shaped hot potato.

Chamber officials, on the organization's website, posted a letter demonstrating how sick and tired they are of defending their festival against animal welfare groups.

Imagine how the turkeys feel.

Everyone acts like the practitioners of the turkey drop are a big mystery, referring to the "phantom pilot" who keeps the ridiculous tradition going. It's hard to believe, and it seems the folks in Yellville may hang on to the practice almost exclusively on the basis that they don't want to give in to those outsiders who want it stopped.

But really, just how long can a stupid tradition be maintained simply because it's always been done?

It seems Yellville officials have done a pretty good job creating a celebration that, as they remind, does not rely on dropping birds out of an airplane. If the townspeople and their leaders got serious about putting an end to the practice, it's hard to believe the pilot would be so motivated to keep it up.

In a letter on its website, the chamber board says the annual festival is about so much more than dropping animals from an airplane. "To Yellville locals (and the surrounding towns), Turkey Trot means many different things. It means fall is here. It means excitement for the Yellville-Summit students because they get to leave school early and walk down to the square. It means a turkey dinner a few weeks earlier than the rest of America. It means a Saturday morning parade and a Saturday night street dance. It means homecoming for many; it means getting to see friends and relatives we only see once a year--at Turkey Trot: our gathering place. It means great music on our beloved historic square. Turkey Trot is so much more than turkeys being released from an airplane."

We suggest the festival can be so much more if officials stop behaving as if the turkey drop is beyond their control. Aren't they tired of having to spend so much time and energy deflecting the criticism for something they say isn't part of the festival? If organizers actually became antagonistic toward individuals involved in flying the plane, rather than treating it with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, maybe the festival itself could be appreciated for the outstanding community event it is.

They're not the witless victims of a phantom, turkey-corralling pilot year after year.

"We sincerely love our town and our festival and wish it to continue to be a place of friendship, family, and fellowship," says the letter on the chamber's website.

Is none of that possible without the turkey drop?

Commentary on 10/11/2017

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