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Portage summer events season postponed in face of COVID-19
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Portage summer events season postponed in face of COVID-19

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When mandated closures and social distancing measures were implemented in mid-March, the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce calendar was suddenly flush with the words “cancelled” and “postponed” before every entry.

“I look at the calendar and the things I see are postponements and cancellations,” Executive Director Marianne Hanson said. “A community calendar shouldn’t be that.”

In recent days, it has seen notable cancellations. The annual festival hosted by St. Mary of Immaculate Conception & St. Mary Help of Christians known as Best Fest is usually considered the opening of summer events within the city, the event’s committee chairwoman Sarah Kravick said. Instead, it will likely close out the season this year. The weekend event was slated to begin May 16, but due to COVID-19 concerns, it was moved to Sept. 11.

“Never once, in our wildest dreams, could we have imagined having to cancel it because of a pandemic,” Kravick said. “Last year, we had some potentially bad weather in terms of tornadoes or severe storms. We plan for those types of contingencies, it’s an outdoor festival, but we never planned for a pandemic.”

Kravick credited her team for working together to make the postponement possible. It would be disappointing to cancel altogether, she said. While the future is not certain, they plan to host the outdoors event in September. Until then, those who take part in the Fun Run every year can sign up to do a virtual run through the church’s Facebook page.

For other organizers in Portage, the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of celebrations where large groups gather. Canal Days, which was scheduled for June 6, has been cancelled.

Hanson said cancellations like those can have a ripple effect on the community. Canal Days hosts children’s activities, a run/walk and includes tours of the Historic Indian Agency House and Surgeons Quarters, which will begin its season late, Hanson said.

Canal Days especially affects tourism, she said.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the community,” Hanson said. “It really brings people into the businesses to see what’s available in our community. There is an economic loss we’re going to see because of these events being cancelled.”

Those two were not the only recent announcements that will impact Portage, Hanson said. Portage Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1707 has cancelled the annual Memorial Day parade and instead will host a small private service not open to the public. The Portage Farmers Market season also was delayed. Hanson said the market at Commerce Plaza now is scheduled to open June 4.

Hanson said she understands keeping the public safe. The chamber is planning to ensure all local businesses are ready to begin again once some of the restrictions are lifted. There are creative and nice people working together to “showcase kindness,” Hanson said.

“We need to support people and our businesses,” Hanson said. “Being kind is important, even if it’s just making a phone call.”

Kravick said she has seen that kindness in everyone she has spoken to since St. Mary decided to delay hosting Best Fest. Not a single vendor, even those who rely solely on events for income, denied their request to reschedule, instead voicing understanding. Even the change in the time of year might prove positive, she said.

“We thought it could actually be a really cool way to celebrate being back together and moving forward with our next year,” Kravick said. “A way to celebrate, wrap up, all of the stress we’ve all experienced during this time. It’s a nice way to come back together as a community.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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