Despite COVID relaxations, many events still up in the air

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Linn County has moved from the “extreme risk” to “high risk” category after succeeding in keeping its COVID-positive numbers under the bar during the two-week period ending Feb. 9.
This allows restaurants, pools and gyms to open with limitations, and increases outdoor gatherings from 50 to 75.
However, event organizers in Lebanon are mostly still unsure whether the community’s favorite functions will operate at all this year.

The Strawberry Festival is planning different options so they can be prepared for whatever state regulations will be in place come festival time, said Cindy Kerby, operations chairperson.
“We are setting dates, and if we hit a date and things have not changed in the government, then Plan A goes away and we go to Plan B,” she said.
Plan A would be to have a full festival; Plan B would be some sort of festival with limitations; and Plan C would be similar to last year’s event, with a tour of homes and strawberry shortcake, she said.
“We’re going to do as much as we are allowed to do, but right now the government is saying we can’t have a full festival, and that’s just, unfortunately, the reality of it,” Kerby said.
The festival board also now manages the Star Spangled Celebration, and plans for that are similar to festival plans: They have a couple options and, at the very least, they will throw fireworks into the sky to be observed from home, she said.

Easter is fast approaching, and Lebanon families are used to attending the egg hunt at Lebanon Nazarene Church each year. Church staff said they decided last year to discontinue holding the event altogether, but Albany resident Krissy Osborne had started organizing another event to be held at River Park.
Due to COVID, she cannot host the function this year, but Osborne said she is looking into other possible options for an Easter celebration for kids in Lebanon. To stay abreast on information, find the group on Facebook under “River Parks Annual Easter Egg/Rock Hunt.”

Organizers for the Lebanon Brewfest still anticipate holding the event downtown this September, but they’ve also opted to host a “Lebanon Brewfest Train Takeover” in April.
A limited number of tickets are being sold for two 2½-hour rides on Santiam Excursion Trains. Breweries, spirits and wine vendors will be on board to sell their products.
The annual Brewfest is a fundraiser, on the anniversary of Growler Cafe’s opening, to support the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam, but the train takeover is set up to benefit the vendors, said Nancy Randall, director of Santiam Excursion Trains.
“The breweries and restaurants and everybody’s been shut down and unable to work, or at least at capacity, and so 100 percent of everything goes back directly to the breweries and distilleries,” Randall explained. “We’re hoping to just basically support all of those who’ve always supported us.”
Matt Cowart, owner of Conversion Brewing, noted that trains are subject to federal regulations while in motion, which allows them to serve food and drink in their cars during COVID, but Santiam Excursion is otherwise taking every possible precaution.
“I’m excited. It’s a little controversial, but people are ready for something. You gotta throw ’em a bone there once in awhile,” he said.

CONVERSION BREWING patrons spend an evening in Strawberry Plaza after the city allowed the establishment to set up tents for outdoor dining.
Photo by Sarah Brown

Cowart recently got approval from the city to set up tents in Strawberry Plaza for outdoor dining as a way to keep his business functioning. He also participates in the Summer Bands & Brews every summer, which brings in musical artists at the plaza and encourages local dining.
The plan for that event this year is to do “as much as we’re allowed,” Cowart said. He expects the concert series to be hosted in July and August, with the hope that as many as 100 people could be allowed at an outdoor gathering by then.
Summer Bands & Brews relies on sponsorship, so that also factors into how much can happen this year, he said.

Concerts in the Park, held in the summer on Tuesdays at Ralston Park, also rely on sponsorship. Cassie Cruze, manager for Lebanon Downtown Association, said they are soliciting sponsorship now in order to have the concerts. It didn’t happen last year because there was not enough funding.
“We’ve been having our ‘Give Five’ donation, asking the community to give $5 a month, or $50 a year, so we can help continue to sustain projects like Concerts in the Park,” Cruze said.
“We try to have that community base so we don’t just rely upon corporations, that we, as a community, can kind of rally around each other and support the financial investment to make these things happen.

LDA also manages Halloween’s downtown trick-or-treat event. Last year, the holiday was celebrated with performances downtown, with reservations to maintain safe distancing.
“This year, depending on what it looks like, we’d like to have our downtown trick-or-treat, but if it’s COVID-style, we very well may still have that, but it might be scaled down quite a bit,” Cruze said.
She noted Sweet Home had a successful downtown trick-or-treat last October, but Lebanon’s concern is its narrow sidewalk space to maintain safe social distance, she said. Sweet Home event organizers encouraged participants to proceed along an established route, all in the same direction.

Guitars Under the Stars, a weekend-long summer concert, has a lot of obstacles to overcome if anything is to happen this year.
In addition to COVID regulations, organizer Jason Cripe said he’d need permission from the City of Lebanon to use Cheadle Lake Park. Getting artists onboard, who are “being somewhat noncommittal,” is also tricky, he said.
It’s fair to say a full-fledged concert is out of the question, but Cripe wonders if he could still hold a guitar camp with limited participants. The camp is a music education component of the concert for kids and adults to learn guitar from the performing artists.
“We might be able, with COVID restrictions, to do the camp by itself,” he said. “Still bring out the artists and only have 50, maybe 100 people out there, and do a socially distanced education camp.”
But Cripe will make an effort to do something this year, if possible, he said.

The annual Walk A Mile for A Child fundraiser, put on by Dala’s Blue Angels, is in full gear this year, scheduled for April 3. The walk/5K will start at 9 a.m. at the Lebanon Police Department.
The fundraiser promotes child advocacy and the prevention of child abuse. This year’s event is in honor of Asher Carter, a 1-year-old from Lebanon who was suffocated by his babysitter in 2019. Amber Marie Scott was convicted in December of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the baby’s death.

The Lebanon Area Mental Health Alliance will also host its annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk on Sept. 4 at Ralston Park. Organizer Dave Butler said the plan is to walk downtown, as usual, but a car parade can be planned if COVID prevents the walk.

CUSTOMERS take advantage of a warm fire while dining outdoors at The Cellar.
Photo by Sarah Brown

Early spring is the time of year when the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Awards and Bud & Dorothy Page Alumni Hall of Fame award banquets are held, but those events won’t bloom this season.
Rebecca Grizzle, executive director of the chamber, noted other chambers have canceled their annual awards banquet this year, while some are talking about doing it drive-in style, but Lebanon is still “holding.”
“Our Board of Directors has opted not to put anything on the calendar quite yet because everybody’s in a ‘wait-and-see’ pattern with what’s gonna happen with COVID and the vaccinations,” Grizzle said. “You just don’t know, because the rules change every day. It’s hard to make a plan.”
After considering hosting a fall event for the Hall of Fame dinner, organizers decided to cancel altogether this year, said Edda King, who sits on the Hall of Fame committee.
“We (also) talked about doing it online, but what fun is that?” she said.
Spring is also usually time for the annual Biz Expo, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, but if the event happens at all, it will have to be later this year, Grizzle said.
The chamber will, however, host its annual golf tournament on July 9, since it’s an outdoor event.

In early spring, COMP-Northwest invites school children to its Health Career Ladder academy, which promotes exploration of career goals.
This year, the university students will hold their workshops online with science-based interactive videos on subjects ranging from immunology to ecosystems. The first video will post Feb. 28. Follow their Facebook page for more information.

Meanwhile, Lebanon schools are working toward reopening in-person instruction next month. They originally aimed to start with K-3 by mid-February, but Superintendent Bo Yates decided at the beginning of the month to push the reopen date out three weeks.
In a letter to parents, Yates stated, “The initial return date was based upon information I had received regarding the COVID-19 vaccine availability. Unfortunately, we were not able to provide staff with the opportunity to receive vaccinations until last week.
“The decision to push back our opening was made to allow our staff the access to both of the vaccinations prior to having students return to the classrooms. I am aware that schools can operate safely without our staff being fully vaccinated and our staff was prepared to do so, but with the delay in access to the vaccine, I made the decision to delay our return.”
As such, the elementary and middle schools will begin in-person instruction on March 8, and the high school will begin March 15.

Social distancing regulations haven’t stopped children from finding a way to participate in Oregon Battle of the Books this year. Granted, the official tournament is canceled, but groups across the state are coordinating battles through Zoom.