Fort Fairfield cancels Maine Potato Blossom Festival
FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — The popular Maine Potato Blossom Festival is the latest event to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the town of Fort Fairfield announced that it had canceled the 2020 festival because of concerns related to the coronavirus situation.
The town chose to cancel after consulting with Fort Fairfield Police Chief Shawn Newell and the office of Maine Gov. Janet Mills, according to a statement from Fort Fairfield Town Manager Andrea Powers, because of the risk the gathering could bring to attendees.
The event, which brings in an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people every year, had been scheduled for July 11-19.
It was “heartbreaking” to cancel an event that is a County staple and that organizers have worked on since October, said Potato Blossom Festival Director Cheryl Boulier.
“Like everybody else, we love the festival,” Boulier said. “But we had to think about the well-being of the public.”
Boulier and Powers said they believe it is the first time the festival has been canceled in its 70-plus-year history.
This year’s festival was set to be a grand one, also celebrating Maine’s bicentennial. Boulier said a $2,500 grant from the Maine Arts Commission to help fund bicentennial events would now go toward next year’s festival.
While the public will not be able to experience the festival the same as in years past, organizers are currently brainstorming ideas for potentially holding festival events using social distancing guidelines during the July 11-19 timeframe.
For example, Boulier said the coloring contest could still occur, with a possible digital announcement of the winner. A new edition of the annual chicken barbecue, held every year by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, may also be possible.
“It will be challenging for us, but we feel we want to do this,” Boulier said. “Every community is struggling and there is so much fear and sadness. We’d like to bring some uplifting in any way we can.”
Boulier said the extent of activities would be dictated by conditions in Maine come July, as well as the approval of the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency.
The Potato Blossom Festival is a Fort Fairfield tradition that brings visitors from far outside Aroostook County — including other parts of Maine, elsewhere in the United States and Canada.
With a parade that is among the largest in Maine and numerous involved vendors and businesses, the festival is a staple for County culture and an integral part of its economy. Recent attendees have included prominent Maine figures such as then-Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Susan Collins.
“We do all of these events to bring people to our area and showcase our area,” Boulier said. “But people’s well being is more important than our self-appreciation.”