Just like every other summer festival in the North Island areas, Port McNeill’s annual OrcaFest has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
It would have been OrcaFest’s 21st year bringing the people of Port McNeill together for summer fun, but last week the organizing committee determined that this year would have to be different.
“It was a hard one to accept that we can’t do [OrcaFest] this year,” committee member Jessica Brown told the Gazette, but with more than 3,000 people planning on attending, cancellation was inevitable amid the coronavirus threat.
The festival might be cancelled, but the committee is still trying to find a way to run a COVID-safe parade.
“If we needed the festival any year, it was this year,” Brown said. “So we want to do something. And the only thing we could really think of was to keep the parade in some form.”
Port McNeill is one community hit hard by the months-long strike affecting forestry mill workers on the island. The strike ended in February, and things were just starting to recover, said Mayor Gaby Wickstrom.
“We just got going; I mean just got going,” noted Wickstrom. “There wasn’t enough time for discretionary money to trickle back into businesses. So we’ve really got to buckle down and figure out how we can help these small business, especially tourism-based businesses.”
The committee wrote on its Facebook page that, “It didn’t feel right to just cancel the entire thing, especially not when everyone could use a boost of morale.”
What the modified parade will look like, the committee doesn’t know yet. There are many details to work through to plan a publicly safe celebration. Check out the OrcaFest Facebook group for updates.
OrcaFest has been running since 1999 when the Chamber of Commerce started the summer festival as a way to bring the town together. The festival features entertainment, kids’ activities, food, vendors and the big highlight – a parade. OrcaFest has always been free to attend, especially the kids’ events.
“Forestry was very cyclical so we wanted people to be able to have something to come to and count on where they didn’t have to worry about money,” Wickstrom added.
Five years ago, planning responsibilities transferred from the Chamber of Commerce to community members.