Mules banned from Winterhaven: Tractors, jeeps to pull hayride wagons
Simone Del Rosario
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - At the Winterhaven festival this year, the hayrides will go on but the animals that pull them will be nowhere in sight.
Tens of thousands crowd Winterhaven for the festival of lights, but the festival board said those crowds are the reason you won't hear that familiar clip-clop of hooves and jingle bell harnesses.
Mark White has driven his mules and hayrides through the festival for 35 years. He's putting away the harnesses for good but he's far from happy about it.
"I was taken quite aback, it was like getting run over," White said about hearing the news.
The board announced Sunday livestock would no longer be allowed to pull haywagons, citing safety concerns.
"We've been doing this since 1978 with zero accidents," White retorted.
But those in charge and a separate mule vendor said times are changing and the festival needs to change with it. So they're trading mule power for fuel power.
"It's just been more and more popular throughout the years that we're getting more and more people, and to have the horses amongst the people has become more and more dangerous," said festival chairman Robin Dolezal.
"Sure [there are safety concerns] and there will be safety concerns when the vehicles go back in there," White said. "It's crowd control and that is going to have to be addressed whether it be livestock or tractors or jeeps."
The board said they looked into putting barricades along the road but said that solution was too expensive.
Now, White's mules -- who have earned their keep over the years -- are out of a job.
"Without Winterhaven or being able to go to work, I'm not going to be able to keep them," White said.
The board said they did not take this decision lightly and that they, too, are nostalgic, like most of the Tucson community. But they want to remind the community that the festival benefits the Tucson Community Food Bank and they hope the big crowds will return this year.