Caribou officials hopeful for traditional summer events despite uncertainty

CARIBOU, Maine — As the city of Caribou begins planning its most popular summer events, including Thursdays on Sweden Street, officials are hoping that the COVID-19 pandemic does not cause the level of disruptions they saw in 2020.

Last year the majority of summer events returned thanks to the lifting of mask mandates and crowd restrictions, and the increased number of vaccinations. If all goes well, noted Caribou Parks and Recreation superintendent Gary Marquis, Caribou could see crowd sizes of more than 1,000 instead of the 500 or 600 that was more common last summer.

“A lot of people were still concerned about COVID last year, and rightly so,” Marquis said. “I hope that we’ll see bigger crowds this year.”

But the rapid spread of the omicron variant has already become a concern for Marquis, his colleagues and other event volunteers. 

Though omicron has become known for less severe COVID illness, an outbreak could still affect businesses who sponsor and participate in events like Thursdays or the Caribou Cares About Kids activities.

“If one business has several employees out sick, they might not be able to participate,” Marquis said. “This new variant is going to weigh heavily on our plans. We won’t be able to predict what will happen.”

Despite the uncertainty, the Parks & Recreation department is moving forward with summer planning and is excited to bring back Thursdays on Sweden Street and potentially expand other events.

The city-wide yard sale has been slated for May 14 and 15, with registration expected to open within the next month or so, Marquis said. Parks & Recreation is also partnering with Troy Haney of Haney’s Building Specialities to plan weekend events around the Caribou Cares About Kids parade that will be “bigger than in past years.”

One notable change will be the absence of the Caribou Marathon in September. The city has opted out of being a Boston marathon qualifier site due to decreased participation from runners.

Although the first Caribou Marathon in 2016 featured well more than 400 runners, numbers have been decreasing since then, Marquis said.

“There’s tons of money and planning involved with an event like that, and the number of runners just weren’t where we’d like to see them,” Marquis said. “Even before COVID, the numbers were decreasing.”

But for now city officials are moving forward with plans for what they hope to be a relatively normal summer, one that will include Thursdays on Sweden Street in its namesake location. 

Last year there were brief conversations about moving the popular and often crowded event to another venue.

“If COVID really does become worse, we would cancel [Thursdays] completely, regardless of the location,” Marquis said. “Nobody knows for sure what will happen, but for now we plan to be on Sweden Street.”

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