If one thing from this year’s Groundhog stuck in the minds (and shoes) of the attendees, it was mud. Rainy weather caused many problems at the celebration on Saturday, Jan. 31.
The biggest issue with the rain was the transportation. The University of Dallas had set up buses to take students from campus to the park entrance. Trucks with trailers filled with hay bales were supposed to take students from the entrance down the dirt road to the party area.
But the trailers quickly became stuck in the mud.
Five of the six hayrides got stuck in the mud, and there was only one tractor to extract each trailer, according to Will Narduzzi, the student programming traditions coordinator.
“We had all six going. Then when they were all making the turn five out of six got stuck in the mud,” he said. “That is what the hiccup was.”
The vehicular setbacks resulted in long waits for many Groundhog attendees. Many students were waiting in line on campus for over two hours. The initial bus full of students that made it to the park was unable to continue because of the lack of trailers. Those students waited to get off the bus for over an hour.
Many students did not understand the nature of the holdup and expressed frustration at waiting so long, both in the line and on the bus, without being told what was going on.
“We only had one tractor to extract all of the trailers that were stuck in the mud,” SPUD director Chris Goldkamp said. “Once we got those trailers out, the trucks had to go all the way back to [the facilities area], detach the trailers and come all the way back out to the park after throwing the hay into the truck beds,” he said. “And that was what caused the almost hour and a half delay.”
Other students complained that they had to sit on the bus and wait for the hayrides, when they would have preferred to walk. According to CSO officer Dave Lemire, students were kept on the bus mainly to prevent them from standing on the side of the street in the rain.
“We were told to keep everyone on the bus to keep them warm and dry until the hayrides were ready,” Lemire said.
Eventually Dr. John Plotts, vice president of enrollment & student affairs, arrived on the scene to resolve the situation by authorizing the staff to let students off of the buses.
“Dr. Plotts arrived and he said, ‘Let them off. If they want to walk let them walk,’” Lemire said.
Plotts gave the order when he realized that the trucks “were never going to get those people over there.”
“It’ll be one o’clock in the morning and we’ll still be waiting,” Plotts said. “We have got two choices. One, we got to cancel and say sorry we have to shut down. We can’t get anyone else there in a timely manner. Or we let them walk.”
The staff working at Groundhog showed a remarkable resistance to bending rules. Many students and alumni asked whether they could drive themselves, walk the 20-30 minute walk to the park or hire a taxi service such as Uber. All were told that they would not be allowed entrance to the Party in the Park should they find their own transportation.
According to Narduzzi, this refusal was made for safety reasons.
“It’s not the best way or the safest way,” he said. “The one thing that everyone has to remember is that the most paramount issue of all these different events that we run is the safety of the students.”
Nonetheless, the coordinators recognized that, while the weather issues were out of their hands, it was not fair for those who had to wait in line and arrive at the park later than they wanted.
“It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that people were getting there at 11 and we were planning to close the park at 12:30,” Narduzzi said. “People pay a lot of good money for sweaters and that’s not fair — an hour and a half of entertainment. I don’t think that’s fair. Dore [Madere] didn’t think that’s fair. Catherine [Duplant] didn’t think that’s fair.”
In order to compensate the students and alumni for the time they spent in the lines, administration decided to extend the party. Buses continued to run after the original cut-off time and park hours were extended. Performances by the two main bands, High Definition and A Hard Day’s Night, were pushed back to ensure that neither band was missed by those taking the bus. Catherine Duplant, assistant director of student activities, explained that the hours were extended, with High Definition performing 45 minutes later than originally planned and A Hard Day’s Night playing 35 minutes after that.
“We had planned on sending out the last bus around 10:15 p.m., but we extended it another 45 minutes and then extended the park hours,” Duplant said. “It wasn’t the ideal setting but…everyone who really wanted to be there got there.”
In the end, however, students, coordinators and staff pulled together to have a good time despite so many setbacks.
“We got everyone to the park by 11[p.m.] which was fantastic,” director of student life, Dore Madere said. “I am so grateful that the students were good sports about it. It seemed like everyone was willing to work with us and be patient.”
Administrators also praised the students and faculty who pulled together to make the event happen.
“Everyone really stepped up. I’m very, very proud of our student leaders,” Madere said. “We’ve got a great group of students here and I love them.”
Goldkamp also commended those working. Student and staff volunteers stayed many hours later than they had originally agreed to stay.
“I think everyone involved really stepped up when we had issues,” Goldkamp said. “There were people who volunteered longer than the shifts they were assigned to, people who took on different roles just to make it smoother.”
Narduzzi was one of the biggest heroes of the evening. Among his other duties, he stayed at the park until 5 a.m., ensuring that everything was cleaned up, according to Duplant.
Despite the long waits and muddy grounds, the majority of attendees seemed to have a good time. The bands were a hit and many enjoyed the s’mores, hamburgers, bonfires and alcohol available.
“Only one person came up and said ‘I want a refund,’” Plotts said.
Some even thought that the rain enhanced the Groundhog experience.
“The rain made Groundhog epic,” said Groundhog queen and senior Cossette Kulda. “Even though there were long lines for the buses, everyone still had a great time.”