Mike Smith knew the day was coming, but that didn’t make what happened Tuesday night any easier.
During an emergency meeting of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival’s Board of Directors, the decision was made to cancel the 2020 festival due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really a tough call,” said Smith, executive director of the festival and a retired Coast Guard officer. “Me personally, I have a passion for the Coast Guard every single day. The Coast Guard Festival is the 10-day public celebration, but we in the festival celebrate the Coast Guard men and women every single day.
“I’m disappointed, but I wouldn’t want to see any citizens of Grand Haven endangered by the large crowds coming in from outside the city,” he added. “It’s a health concern, and so many of our participating partners pointed us to this decision.”
This year’s festival was scheduled to take place July 24 through Aug. 2. The festival annually draws huge crowds into Grand Haven for a variety of events, including the Parade of Ships, Grand Parade, cardboard boat races, arts and crafts show, carnival midway and the Saturday night fireworks show.
Smith said there were conversations about holding an abbreviated festival, but the board decided in the end that the only event that will take place is a virtual Coast Guard Memorial Service on Friday, July 31.
“We didn’t know what we could come up with that would be safe,” he said.
Coast Guard Festival organizers had originally set a deadline of June 1 to make a final decision regarding this summer’s festival.
“But we were collecting information and letters of support – or those saying, ‘Hey, what are you thinking?’ – from each of our sponsors, including the U.S. Coast Guard,” Smith said Wednesday. “When it became apparent that these agencies and partners could not support us moving forward, we held the emergency meeting last night. … Now we have a lot to unravel – caterers, catering facilities, personnel who have sent money to support one event or another. There’s a lot to unravel, but better now than later.”
Smith said that the festival board received input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ottawa County Department of Public Health, Region 6 Emergency Preparedness Coalition, North Ottawa Community Health System, City of Grand Haven and partnering municipalities, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“NOCHS helped us by pointing out that we couldn’t handle an influx,” Smith said. “They could not do extensive testing, and the Ottawa County health department told us the same thing.”
The reaction to the cancellation on the Tribune’s Facebook page has been widely varied. Here’s a sampling:
Susan Olthof: “Sad, disappointing, but it should not be a surprise. No way to maintain the recommended 6-feet distance. And you know people will not wear masks in the summer sun. This is just one year – we hope! Hang in there, and stay safe and well.”
Michael Vozar: “Sad news. Thanks for all your hard work! Looking forward to next year! Semper Paratus!”
Kathleen Kennedy: “It was the responsible thing to do. It’s doubtful Michigan will be in the phase needed to host large gatherings this year. Hometown folks can enjoy the area with a lot less tourists this year. Feel for the businesses this all effects.”
Isabelle Scripps: “I disagree with the Board’s decision. But I don’t blame them. I blame big government. We’ve given up so much with government overreach in the last 8 weeks. Church. Art Walk. School. Sports. Live music ... and now this. It’s like the Taliban is running government.”
Ashley J Erkes: “This is all a bunch of BS! Let us live seriously!”
Smith said that despite the cancellation of the festival, the committee will continue to support local Coasties throughout the year.
“Most people don’t see the homemade and store-bought gift baskets and goodies we bring to Coast Guard Station Grand Haven and the Sector Field Office,” he said. “They don’t see when a person has a baby, we supply them with gift cards. They don’t know that we host two Christmas events – one for Coast Guard families that has a physical activity like creative bowling, and provide gifts for each of the children, and a family gift for every member in a Coast Guard uniform stationed in Grand Haven. Those are the kinds of things we can support behind the scenes, and there are ways we will continue to do that this year, as well.”
The 2021 festival is scheduled to take place July 30 through Aug. 8.