LOACHAPOKA, AL (WTVM) - Organizers tell News Leader 9 the Syrup Sopping Festival, a tradition that draws more than 20,000 people to the small town of Loachapoka, Ala., will not take place this year.
Loachapoka Mayor James Grout said it's a sad day for the town, but he says Loachapoka is planning a fall festival event with the Lee County Historical Society.
Mayor Grout says Syrup Sopping organizers won't call him back to explain why they are leaving.
However, we spoke with two organizers over the phone on Wednesday.
"It's just really sad because it brings people to Loachapoka that have never even heard of the town before," said Deborah McCord, who has worked with the Lee County Historical Society for 20 years.
Since 1972, McCord's family and thousands more have flooded Loachapoka for Syrup Sopping.
"Everybody knows about it, they all talk about it," McCord said.
Mayor Grout said he's sad to say the Syrup Sopping tradition ends this year for Loachapoka.
"They will not be having Syrup Sopping this year, for what reasons I am not sure," Mayor Grout said.
Former Lee County Commissioner Mathen Holt and Gene Smith say they are the main organizers of Syrup Sopping and have decided to move the event closer to Auburn, possibly next year.
Holt says he does not believe the town supports the event. Smith says it was a difficult decision to leave Loachapoka, but the large event was becoming a hazard in that location.
Mayor Grout says he's reached out to both organizers, but has had no response.
"I think out of common courtesy they would have contacted me or a member of the council, said this year things are going to be different, no comment has left a big void," Mayor Grout said.
McCord says the Historical Society is determined to fill that void.
"We will have the sausage biscuits and the syrup made from cane and horses," McCord said.
Each year the Historical Society holds their Historical Fair the same day as Syrup Sopping, and this year will be no different.
The Historical Society is asking Syrup Sopping vendors and visitors to support their fair on October 17 at Pioneer Park.
"We want to bring people into the town of Loachapoka and we hope we can still do that, it will just be under a different name," McCord said.
The Historical Society is also concerned fair attendance will be down this year because Syrup Sopping is gone. Fair proceeds fund their community outreach group for the entire year.
Lee County Commissioner Shelia Eckman, who represents that area, is well aware of this issue.
Eckman hopes the community will rally around the Historical Fair on October 17.
"They do not claim non-profit status on their website, but they promote their event as 'benefiting the community,'" Eckman said about the Syrup Sopping organizers. "The community gets about $300 for a business license and the rental of the old school. Townsfolk have been upset about the deception for years, as they don't see any benefit. Most people don't realize there are actually two events that day – the Syrup Sop on the south side of Highway 14 and the Lee County Historical Fair on the north. With the exodus of the Syrup Sop, the fair will be much more easily accessed and family friendly, I believe."
Eckmen says the group does pay the water bill for the town hall and to keep the park mowed.
However, she says requests for the group's financials to confirm they've given to other groups have not been forthcoming.
We reached out to Holt and Smith for the group's financials as well to clarify if they are nonprofit or for-profit.
We will update this story when they respond.