Blueberry Festivals cancellation affects Marshall County economy

MARSHALL COUNTY, Ind. - It just keeps happening, despite Indiana's efforts to reopen the economy, the 54th annual blueberry festival that attracts thousands to Plymouth every summer will not happen because of COVID concerns.

The blueberry festival is known for the huge fireworks tons of vendors and of course the famous blueberry donuts but this year the event is canceled and Centennial Park is going to look a lot emptier.

The Marshall County Blueberry Festival has a rich history.

“It started out with a picnic in a park and it grew into a festival," Karen O'Neal, the festival coordinator said.

A small picnic turned into one of the biggest festivals in the state.

"Vendors, craft vendors, food vendors, we have a carnival, we have Americana part. It has grown huge. We have fireworks, we have balloons that go off.”

“Huge event. With crafters, commercial companies, lots lots lots of food vendors," Sandy Saenz, a local business owner said. "Lots of rides and usually baseball, softball tournaments.”

Saenz has gone to the festival for as long as she can remember.

“Since ooh the late ’80s," she said. "You take a day and you go out there and you wander around. Check it out, see what’s new, what’s exciting, eat some junk food.”

“You come for the day, some people come for the entire weekend some people come and camp for the entire week," O'Neal said.

The four-day event brings close to 300,000 people to Centennial Park each year.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, even this Michiana mainstay has had to cancel for the first time in 54 years.

“This is the first time. This is very heartbreaking not only for the board but for the community," O'Neal said.

The reasoning having mainly to do with social distancing.

“We can get the hand sanitizers, we can get the wash stations, we can meet a lot of things. We can’t meet social distancing. Let's say only 200,000 people show up. You can’t social distance 200,000 people," O'Neal said.

But what happens now that this event that is so intertwined within the community is canceled?

“Financially this is a huge impact for this county, the tourism. It brings people into this county not only just surrounding cities but states, surrounding states, the hotels the campgrounds, the restaurants, surrounding businesses people come in, they stay here, they fill up their gas here," O'Neal said.

The festival impacts all aspects of the area.

“There’s a lot of things that go on not in the festival but outside the festival," O'Neal said. "A lot of our not-for-profits, this is their fundraiser for the entire year.”

The decision to cancel was a hard one, but many say they respect it.

“It is disappointing but completely understand why they made the decision," Saenz said. "It was a very hard decision for them but I respect it.”

Although this event is canceled, there may be some hope on the horizon.

“There is some discussion on the table for that. Not anything I can say right now because nothing has been finalized but the board of directors has some things on the table that they are discussing," O'Neill said.

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