BLAKELY, GA–Blakely civic leaders were baffled last weekend as Cryptosporidium Daze, their elaborately planned summer festival celebrating the popular waterborne pathogen, failed to draw tourists to the Southwest Georgia town.
"Just as Colquitt celebrates its agricultural heritage with Watermelon Days, we wanted to host a festival that reflected the uniqueness of our community," Blakely Town Council president Jane Lyons said Monday. "When someone suggested a theme inspired by the historical event we're best known for, the Great Cryptosporidium Outbreak of 1988, we knew we had the answer."
Twelve years ago, Lyons said, a small amount of pig feces seeped into the town's municipal water supply, contaminating it with cryptosporidium. As a result, 611 citizens contracted cryptosporidiosis, an intestinal disease marked by abdominal cramps, violent diarrhea, nausea, and fever.
"If it weren't for our town's brush with cryptosporidium, the EPA never would have enacted the Surface Water Treatment Act of 1989," Lyons said. "It established drinking-water standards for the entire country–and it all started right here in Blakely!"
Much to the surprise of town-council members, unlike Colquitt's Watermelon Days and Columbia's Riverfest, which bring up to 15,000 visitors into the neighboring small towns each summer, Cryptosporidium Daze was sparsely attended.
"It's a real mystery," Lyons said. "It was a nice, sunny day, the park was filled with booths, and somebody was out there in the big foam cryptosporidium mascot outfit shaking hands with everybody. Yet, somehow, the festival flopped."
The three-day event drew only seven non-residents, most of whom left shortly after arriving.
"I thought cryptosporidium was some type of flower," said Rhonda Weber, who drove to Blakely from Albany for the event. "Turns out, I was thinking of chrysanthemum."
After an outlay of nearly $4,000 for decorations, advertising, and equipment rental, Lions Club president Gary Milstead estimated that Cryptosporidium Daze brought in less than $45 in revenue.
"We had a new mascot, Crypty The Cryptosporidium, created just for the event," said Milstead, pointing to poster bearing a grinning, single-celled parasite wearing a Blakely baseball cap. "We still have plenty of T-shirts left for sale if you want one."
Even Blakely's own citizens were disinterested in the festival. A pageant to crown one lucky young Blakely girl "Cryptosporidium Queen" was canceled due to a lack of applicants.
Other poorly received events included the Name That Parasite contest, the Water Boil, the cryptosporidium-themed "haiku-off," and the Protozoan Parade, in which children could compete for prizes by dressing up as their favorite member of the phylum protozoa.
With the unpopular event behind them, some members of the town council are wondering if they selected the wrong theme.
"Maybe people just aren't as interested in cryptosporidium as they were in the late '80s," Lyons said. "Back then, if we announced a town meeting about cryptosporidium, every last person would show up. I have, however, heard a lot of buzz lately about the radon gas that was detected in some of the homes over by the railroad tracks. Well, I guess there's always next summer."