Many summer events canceled following health department’s guidance


Hands Across the Border, Blaine’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July parade and fireworks, the Blaine Harbor Music Festival and many other summer events throughout Whatcom County have been canceled this year due to COVID-19.

On April 14, Whatcom County Health Department director Erika Lautenbach recommended that summer events throughout Whatcom County be canceled to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. She didn’t mention specific events or give a threshold about event size, but said her recommendation included parades, community festivals and fireworks displays.

In the days after Lautenbach’s recommendation, many event organizers canceled their events.

“Blaine has been very event-heavy for its whole existence, which is a wonderful thing, but it has made this an especially tough situation,” said Donna Raimey, program and events coordinator for the Blaine Chamber of Commerce.

The International Peace Arch Association, which organizes Hands Across the Border, will hold an online version of the event from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 14. “We can all dress up in our best U.S./Canada gear, enjoy being friends and enjoy our fellowship as we sing our anthems together,” the organization said on the website for Hands Across the Border,

The Peace Arch monument has its 100th anniversary next year, and the group has already scheduled next year’s Hands Across the Border for June 13, 2021.

The city of Blaine had some new events planned this summer, but it has canceled those and other city-organized summer events, said Alex Wenger, community planner. The city had more events planned than usual, he said, including a new series of summer street dances.

“I do want to emphasize how disappointed we are,” Wenger said. “We had put quite a bit of effort into two summer dances.”

The Blaine chamber’s other upcoming summer events, such as the Drayton Harbor Days maritime festival featuring tall ships, will have their funding revoked by the city of Blaine. The Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee voted at an April 22 meeting to recommend to city council that all funding for those events be canceled.

The city funds those and other events through an annual grant program funded by a citywide hotel and motel tax. Last year, it awarded more than $120,000 to local citizens and nonprofits for hosting and marketing events.

That advisory board made its recommendation to pull event funding to slow the virus’ spread, but Wenger also noted that the city’s lodging tax will collect considerably less than normal due to the pandemic’s effect on travel and tourism. “We’re expecting, at this point, a 30 percent reduction,” he said.

The first-ever Point Roberts Race Week, a week of sailing races that would have included water taxi service from Blaine, has also been canceled by its organizers.

The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce hasn’t made an announcement about its summer events, which include the Birch Bay Kite Festival on May 30 and 31 and the Birch Bay Sand Sculpture Competition and Rollback Weekend on July 18 and 19. Chamber executive director Liz Thornton said in an email that the chamber board hasn’t had a meeting yet to talk about its events.

One of the larger gatherings in Birch Bay is the unorganized fireworks on the beach and other festivities surrounding the Fourth of July. The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t yet have a plan for Fourth of July in Birch Bay, said undersheriff Doug Chadwick.

“We’ll certainly take a look at that once it gets a little closer and do an assessment on state and local guidance and on whether some of those restrictions have been lifted,” he said. He added that so far, the county sheriff has taken an approach of education, rather than enforcement, for the governor’s stay-at-home order.

Many big summer events elsewhere in Whatcom County have been canceled, including Bellingham’s Fourth of July festival and fireworks. Many events, including local film festivals, are now “virtual events” with live-streamed online gatherings and film screenings. The Lynden Chamber of Commerce announced in a Facebook post that it will delay any announcements about canceling chamber events.


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