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Central Oregon Coast's Florence Cancels Rhody Fest After Initial Go-Ahead

Published 02/19/21 at 4:06 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Central Oregon Coast's Florence Cancels Rhody Fest After Initial Go-Ahead

(Florence, Oregon) - For a time this year it seemed as if one famed and beloved Oregon coast festival would be able to continue in 2021, at least mostly intact. However, after much discussion and reexamination of the current COVID situation, the town of Florence has reversed course on the 114th Rhododendron Festival, set to reappear in its usual May spot after getting canceled in 2020.

Last year was the first time since World War II the event was shuttered, and even after making arrangements for what would be the 114th installment, the board of directors of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce opted out for safety’s sake.

The event was scheduled for its traditional date, the third weekend of May, May 12 to 16, 2021.

“People missed the point that we were moving forward with cautious optimism when we announced that our first step was the cancelation of Rhody Court since that’s the earliest aspect of the festival and demanded an early decision,” said Chamber president/CEO Bettina Hannigan. “As quickly and unpredictively as the State issues its edicts for where and what is safe for people to do, and then just as quickly rescinds them, it leaves us trying to hit a moving target while making plans for a huge event in as little time as possible.”

“Vaccines, we’re now told, will roll out much slower than first announced. The rapidity in growth and spread of variants has become too unstable, that complicates matters further,” she added.

Hannigan said the board and other stakeholders agreed there would be no sure way to enforce social distancing and efficient, proper sanitizing. Even the outdoors carnival portion of the event would be far too difficult to do safely.

“The same must be said for distancing at a vendor fair or during a parade. OHA guidelines prohibit large gatherings and we must comply with these restrictions. We are so saddened by another loss for this generational family tradition and its economic impact on Florence for a second year.”

The Rhododendron Festival makes the single largest economic impact on Florence’s tourist-driven economy and serves as the kick-off to the tourism season. Around 1900 people in Florence rely on tourism-based employment, and tourism pumps about $147 million into our community each year.

“Safety really is our top priority and so we’re forced to hold off on promoting the level of tourism our community needs to survive. We are really chomping at the bit to get back up to speed, but it’s just not safe enough to do so yet,” Hannigan explained. “Even though we’ve noticed them, this is not in response to those small pockets of mean-spirited outrage on social media. It’s just the right thing to do in the face of the rapid changes and edicts forced on society.”

However, some ancillary events may be a different story. Rhody Run, the classic car show ‘n’ shine and cruise, the Rhododendron Society’s flower show, and music events, are not organized by the chamber and that the organizers of each will have to make their own decision for how they want to proceed.

Last year’s Rhody Fest, though officially cancelled, did feature a virtual parade coordinated by the City of Florence with short videos submitted by the public and edited for use on social media. Local rhododendron expert, and Chamber ambassador Mike Bones, took it upon himself last year to roll a wheelbarrow packed with rhododendrons along the traditional parade route in lieu of the official Sunday grand floral parade.

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