With all of the cancellations and postponements of concerts, festivals, sporting events and other activities this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that the Vergas Looney Days celebration will proceed as scheduled this coming Friday through Sunday, Aug. 7-9, will probably come as a shock to many.
But organizer Sherri Hanson says that with careful planning and a decision to stick with strictly outdoor venues for the various festival events, the Vergas Community Club was able to move forward with the community's biggest celebration of the year, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
"There will be no street dance or beer garden this year," Hanson said, referring to two of Looney Days' most well-attended activities.
But Friday's schedule will still include a live band — in the form of a Beatles tribute show — as well as fireworks, food trucks and kids' activities. In order to accommodate state-mandated social distancing restrictions, all of these events have been moved to the spacious confines of Long Lake Park this year.
Friday's festivities get underway downtown at 10 a.m., with sidewalk chalk art in front of Natalie's Serendipity, a coloring contest at Otter Coffee & Ice Cream, and rummage sales at various locations around town.
The fun shifts to Long Lake Park later that afternoon, with a kids' fishing contest at 4:30 p.m., food truck service starting at 5 p.m., and the Beatles tribute show — free and open to the public — starting at 6:30 p.m.
The kids' fishing contest will be informal, with the only prizes coming in the form of Looney Bucks that will be given away to the first 50 kids that sign up, Hanson said.
Last but not least, there will be a fireworks show at dusk.
"People can listen to the music and watch the fireworks from anywhere around there," said Hanson, noting that the only restriction is to avoid large-group gatherings in any one area of the park.
"They can even bring their boat or pontoon and listen to the music and watch the fireworks from the lake," she added. Because public seating inside the park is extremely limited, however, those attending the festivities on land are asked to bring their own chairs and/or blankets to enjoy the show.
Though Saturday's schedule is somewhat abbreviated as compared to years past, such Looney Days staples as the 5K run/walk (8 a.m.), weiner dog races (9 a.m.), kids' pedal tractor pull (10 a.m.) and loon calling contest (12:30 p.m.) are still happening — with a few pandemic-inspired precautions.
For instance, Hanson said, the start times for 5K participants will be staggered to accommodate social distancing restrictions, and the race will begin and end at Long Lake Park. Also, instead of T-shirts being given out to the participants, each racer will receive a gator-style mask, she added.
The 27-foot long Oscar Mayer Wienermobile will be at the event's Wiener Fest, a dachshunds race, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. While the weiner dog races will still be taking place at the baseball field, the tracks for each racer will be wider, there will be large dividers placed between the lanes, and only one handler per dog will be allowed in the racing area, Hanson said. Also, there will be no bleacher seating allowed during the event.
The kids' pedal tractor pull will take place in the parking lot next to the city's new walking trail, near Vergas Apartments, and the equipment will be sanitized after each pull.
There will be an open house for the Vergas Fire & Rescue Department as in years past, but it will take place outside the fire hall rather than indoors. The open house will take place from 10 a.m. to noon.
The remainder of the day's festivities will take place at Long Lake Park, Hanson said, starting with a live demonstration from Detroit Lakes' own Summit Dance School at noon; followed by the loon calling contest at 12:30 p.m. and a family-friendly magic show at 1:30 p.m. There will also be a road rally departing from the park at noon, and the final events of the day, the "puppy plunge" and bean bag tournament, will both get underway at 3 p.m.
No Saturday evening activities are planned this year, Hanson said.
Finally on Sunday, Aug. 9, there will be a classic car show on Main Street starting at 9 a.m., a community worship service outside St. John's Church at 10 a.m., and the Grand Parade at 2 p.m.
To accommodate social distancing restrictions, the parade route has been expanded, and those attending the festivities are asked to watch from their front yards when possible, rather than congregating downtown as in years past.
Though the Vergas Fire Department's annual water fights are still on the schedule, Hanson said, they are still trying to figure out a safe way to hold the event. If it does happen, it will take place on Main Street after the parade.
"We’re encouraging people to wear masks, and we will have hand sanitizer available everywhere (at all the events)," Hanson said. "All of our event organizers have been given instructions on how to make it (each event) as safe as they can."
Last but not least, Billy's Corner Barn will be hosting TIP bingo after the parade and a raffle drawing at 8 p.m. A full schedule is available at the Vergas city website, www.cityofvergas.com (click on the "Events" link in the upper right hand corner of the page).