UPDATE: Tammy Knapp, the president of the Port Byron Tug Fest, has issued a statement in response to an earlier news release from the Iowa side of the Tug Fest.

“I along with some of the committee and the Port Byron mayor and another village board member were in a meeting (Tuesday night) with the Iowa Tug Fest committee,” the statement says. 

“First thing to note. The Port Byron Tug Fest committee and tuggers are ready to have a festival like we have been doing since 1987. In a meeting with LeClaire held on Oct 10, 2022 we were given an ultimatum by the Iowa committee: Switch all tug teams, Iowa pulls in Illinois or ‘We are not pulling,'” the statement says.

Illinois does not believe there is a reason to change sides. “We have listened to the reasoning they talk about but do not agree with their assumptions. There have been times Iowa has won the event and/or pulls.  There are many other reasons that things are going the way they have been,” the statement says.

“The Iowa tug pit has been totally changed multiple times. Their tug pit material is made up of lime, that is what we’ve been told, this is not good for tuggers to pull on. It ends up being like pulling on gravel which can be seen in the pictures they post.  We have offered to help them with their tug pit issues and even help train their tuggers. The Illinois tuggers have been training better and better every year, enough that the old saying of “it’s the worst 3 minutes of your life” is no longer true.  The Illinois Tug Masters and the 11 tug captains create and train their teams so much that they are ready that day to put their best to the test,” the statement says.

“The spectators on the Illinois side do not want to see Iowa in our pit. They show up to see and cheer for their Illinois teams and family members. There are also other events that our tuggers attend in Port Byron that they will not be able to see/participate in if they are in Iowa. One big one is our kids tug which has grown to several hundred kids. A  lot of these kids’ parents are current and past Illinois tuggers,” the statement continues.

“These are just a few of the reasons we are ready to have a festival and tug of war across the Mississippi River as we have been since 1987.”

There are a few things in (the Iowa) press release that need to be corrected and/or explained., Knapp’s statement continues. “They had this press release created and (to media) before we ever had a meeting tonight. How did they quote things from tonight’s meeting before we ever had the meeting? The ‘home field advantage’ was never spoke of before (Tuesday night) and there was never any negotiations brought up by Iowa before tonight’s meeting. Last we knew it was their way or the highway, all teams switch states to pull or else,” the statement says.

“They also refer to ‘break down in discussions’ in the press release before we had a meeting. How do they know that? We hadn’t had a meeting yet,” the statement says.

EARLIER: Negotiations between the LeClaire and Port Byron Tug Fest Committees have stalled, according to a Tuesday evening news release.

The LeClaire, Iowa, Tug Fest Board and Committee announced Tuesday that negotiations to update the only Tug-Of-War competition to span the Mississippi River have reached an impasse, and the Iowa side is planning a land-based event.

Tugfest in the Quad Cities

According to a news release from a Tug Fest spokesperson, both sides of the festival have noticed a marked drop in attendance over the last several years. “Iowa’s take on this is that the vastly different currents on each side of the Mississippi River make it impossible to have a fair and even competition. Illinois disagrees, saying that the current does not matter and does not affect the outcome of the pulls in any way,” the release says.

“Of course we all want to win … that’s the nature of this beast but most importantly we want this
event to keep going for the next 36 plus years. We want to pass this over to our grandchildren and watch them have as much fun planning and preparing for this as we have. If we continue on as we have been, I fear that Tug Fest, as we know it, will die,” said Kari Long, president of the LeClaire, Iowa, Tug Fest Board. “This event is bigger than us … it’s bigger than just our boards and committees. We need to reignite the excitement in this event and make it better for both cities. This festival cannot continue as a one sided competition or we will all end up losing in the long run.”

Initially, the news release says, the Iowa team asked to change sides for all 11 pulls, and was met with “No” from Illinois. “After listening to our pullers, Tug Masters, team sponsors and our loyal fans, we have reached out to team Illinois and requested that Tug Fest be treated like every other sport where no team has the home field advantage at all times. We stand behind our decision and we are ready to move forward with our Plan B if negotiations fall through,” said Matt Thoene, vice president of the Iowa Board.

As of Tuesday, neither side has presented a plan that was acceptable to the opposition, according to the release. With the breakdown in discussions, Team Iowa has decided to proceed with planning a tug-of-war competition on land.

“Of course we will come back to the table to chat with Team Illinois if they are willing to talk about legitimate changes. We need changes that will benefit the festival as a whole,” Long says in the release. “Until then, we have to move forward with our planning schedule. We truly hoped that we could find some sort of compromise that would be acceptable for both sides but unfortunately, to this point, it has not happened.”

Tug Fest has been set for Aug. 10-12, 2023. More information about Tug Fest is available here.