Forced to cancel the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival last spring due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, the organizing committee is already planning for what will be a virtual-only iteration in 2021.
“We see the way COVID is going – up, up, up. I think it made it pretty simple for us to decide we’re not bringing people to town,” said Doug McLean, chair of the festival’s organizing committee, of plans for the next event, schedule for Mar. 27, 2021.
In a typical year, planning for the next festival usually gets underway in September, kicking into higher gear in October and November. At this point, he said, there’s no way to prepare for an in-person event given the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.
“I think that’s wise,” said Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz of the precautions. “Even if we do have a vaccine approved by Christmas, it’s not going to be widespread … for a while.”
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (EMSF) typically draws tens of thousands of visitors to Elmira, as after a long winter people are keen to get out to one of the earliest occasions. Even in the absence of a live affair, the committee wants to provide people with some excitement about springtime, said McLean.
“We’re working on a bunch of ideas for a virtual festival,” he explained, noting the committee is also looking to assure people that the event is not going away despite last spring’s cancellation and next year’s alterations – the regular festival will return.
“We had a difficult decision to make,” he said of cancelling last spring’s outing, adding “we’re going ahead with a festival … next spring, but we probably don’t want to bring people to town.”
“We’ll come up with something interesting.”
More difficult, perhaps, will be the fundraising aspect of the festival. It’s typically a major contributor to a range of community groups, including Elmira District Community Living, Community Care Concepts and Woolwich Community Services. Each year, dozens of organizations share in the proceeds, raised by the rental of booths as the festival and a share of the day’s sales.
How money can be raised through a virtual event remains to be seen, said McLean.
After this year’s cancellation, many of the sponsors who’d already contributed allowed the committee to keep the money, providing for some $35,000 to be distributed to 18 organizations. That was down from $65,000 the year before, but still something.
Given that the sponsors have also taken a financial hit due to the pandemic, the committee won’t be looking for the usual supports on the revenue side.
On the upside, the EMSF committee had expenditures last time out that couldn’t be recouped after the cancellation, while next year it will not be making any bookings or rentals, he added.
The festival committee is completely volunteer-based, and aims to give back to the community. The event is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest single-day maple syrup festival in the world.