The fate of the Ladysmith summer festival season continues to hang in the balance with Northland Mardi Gras still on the schedule for this July.
But that could change as event coordinators and city officials continue to play the waiting game, watching if statewide social gathering restrictions will be lifted and if an amusement ride company will resume operations.
Christman Amusements, which provides rides for Mardi Gras, is shut down during May and June, City Administrator Alan Christianson told the Ladysmith Common Council Monday. He said the company is currently planning to resume operations starting in July.
Northland Mardi Gras, sponsored by the Ladysmith Jaycees, is currently scheduled to run July 16-19.
“We are anticipating it is going to be on, but we realize there will be a lot outside our control,” Christianson said.
Other summer festivals also were mentioned including Music in the Park on most summer Thursdays and Music on Miner on the first Friday of the summer months. Both are slated to kick off in June.
Ald. Marty Reynolds expressed concern about Mardi Gras and possible health risks of a large gathering when the COVID-19 pandemic could still be going on.
“I’ve got a real concern about Mardi Gras,” said Reynolds, adding festival patrons may not be practicing social distancing or wearing facemasks. “As a council we are totally responsible for what is going to happen in this community.”
Reynolds asked the council to discuss possibly making a recommendation to the Jaycees no not hold Mardi Gras this year. “I think Mardi Gras has the potential of bringing in a lot of outside problems we really don’t need right now,” he said.
Other aldermen wanted to wait before taking council action to halt any summer functions.
Ald, Bonnie Stoneberg wants to wait until the governor’s “Safer At Home” order is scheduled to expire on May 26 after Memorial Day weekend.
“I’d hate to see everything shut down,” Stoneberg said.
Ald. Brian Groothousen also backed a wait-and-see approach to hear what state restrictions are lifted, saying the Rusk County Fair is now still on despite the rodeo being called off last week.
“I’d like to wait and see what comes from the state,” Groothousen said.
City resident and business owner Sue Moore said the festivals are outdoor events in the open air with room for social distancing. She said the events can be held with social distancing measures in place.
“Shutting down out community all summer long is not a good thing. People will then have the opportunity to not attend,” Moore said. “There are so many people who are anxious to see things continue.”
Christianson told the council Rockfest and Barron County Fair are the same weekend as Mardi Gras and Jaycees are keeping a close watch on those festivals that are currently proceeding as planned. They are also watching what happens with a New Richmond festival the week before Mardi Gras and Tomah the week after, both where Christman Amusement regularly provides rides and where both of those festivals are still being held. He added the Jaycees are certainly open to having a discussion about this year’s Mardi Gras and taking any city input back to the civic organization.
Christman Amusements plans to implement handwash and sanitizer stations and other additional safety measures, according to Christianson.
“The Jaycees group is proceeding like [Mardi Gras] is going on but realize there might be a lot outside our control. We were hoping to have a decision made one way or another by early to mid June at the latest,” Christianson said.
Christianson noted the popularity of Mardi Gras, saying it is often the site of many class reunions. He added the Jaycees have discussed similar concerns voiced by Reynolds at this week’s city council meeting.
“You do get people from all over the state and the Midwest region,” Christianson said.
Reynolds said Mardi Gras is an event the council should act on.
“It basically says we are perfectly comfortable with whatever happens out there. I have a real concern,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds called this area very fortunate so far.
As of this week, Rusk County has reported four COVID-19 cases.
“Social distancing doesn’t apply to anything at Mardi Gras,” Reynolds said. “If it is here we are going to have a lot of people here.”
No action was taken. As of now, Mardi Gras is still being planned as usual.
Music in the Park kicks off Thursday, June 4. The first Music on Miner is slated for Friday, June 5.