Kids standing in a row holding a Howell melon
Virtual race among changes for Howell Melon Festival because of COVID-19

May 19, 2020

This article originally appeared here.

With less than three months before the Howell Melon Festival is scheduled to take place, organizers are working on significant changes to the 60th annual event because of issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the largest changes is that the 43rd annual Howell Melon Run, which had 572 finishers last year, will be conducted as a virtual race.

During the week of Aug. 10, participants can run or walk 3.1 miles and report their times on the registration Web site. The results will be displayed on a leaderboard. The entry fee is $25, plus a $2.50 registration fee.

“There are a lot of costs that go into running the 5K and 10K,” said Amelia Purdy-Ketchum, special events/festivals coordinator for the Howell Area Parks & Recreation Authority.

“We were looking at the benchmarks in our industry and looking at what other places are doing, trying to make the best decisions for us. It’s just so many people. Any social distancing measure we could implement to make it safe would not fit into our footprint. Just the nature of our race didn’t make it possible.”

The in-person arts and crafts show and inflatable play areas for children have been canceled, with other programs being put on hold for the festival, scheduled for Aug. 13-16.

Potential programs include a drive-in movie or concert, scavenger hunts, and art and baking competitions. Some events will be scheduled throughout August to minimize crowds.

“We’re working with community partners that are also interested in supporting events like this, talking to the Howell Theater to see what’s available, what spaces are good for something like this, how we would keep everyone safe,” Purdy-Ketchum said.

Planning the Melon Festival is a year-round project, Purdy-Ketchum said. Making major changes over the period of a few months will be a significant challenge.

“A lot of it is going back to the drawing board with our entertainers and vendors and seeing if there’s creative ways we can offer entertainment for our community this summer,” she said. “Yes, it’s definitely a big challenge, because we’re at home and trying to work together.”

Whatever form the Melon Festival eventually takes will look dramatically different than normal. The event attracts an estimated 60,000 people to downtown Howell, Purdy-Ketchum said.

“The weekend of the festival there is not going to be a physical presence mostly,” she said. “We’re looking at trying to do a food court still for one day. We’re working with vendors. It’s really hard, because a lot of vendors have called it quits for the summer. Maybe we’ll pair food trucks with another event we’re doing. It’s kind of like a whole scramble trying to take everything we’re doing and rework it.”

Contact Bill Khan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

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