What to expect for early 2021
By: Rob Hinkle, Director of Events and Visitor Services
2020 was a most unusual year for the staff who manage the Events Complex and organize the Town's many signature and hosted events. The Town offers special events to enrich our community and provide cultural offerings for both residents and those who visit and support our businesses. With several events in 2020 canceled or scaled back, some may think it was a quiet year for us. But behind the scenes it has been a different story.
The year began normally with Winter Fest in January (2,450 attendees), Wine & Chocolate Festival in February (1,750 attendees) and Whiskey Warm Up in early March (455 attendees). Then, COVID-19 changed everything.
Beginning in March and with the declaration of the pandemic and related public health orders, we began to modify and cancel events with the goal to keep people from gathering and placing themselves and our community at higher risk for COVID-19. Once a process was developed by Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (the County), we began to evaluate and restructure events and submit detailed plans to safely hold them to the County for approval. Guidelines changed frequently in the early months, requiring us to continually adapt to evolving criteria and limitations.
The events team goes through a rigorous decision-making process when determining whether to hold an event during the pandemic. Internally, we ask: Would the event plan be approved by the County under current COVID guidelines? Can we provide an event that adheres to these guidelines that would offer a positive experience for the attendees? Does it make sense to hold the event for fewer attendees - what is the return on investment? Do we have adequate staffing to ensure guidelines are followed? Most importantly, what is the risk to our attendees, our community, and our staff?
Sometimes, after this process, we elected not to hold several events. In some cases, Elk Fest for example, contact tracing would have been required in multiple zones over two locations, and attendee numbers limited to such a degree that it would not have made sense to proceed as usual. We still wanted to celebrate Estes Park's famous elk rut season, so the event was adapted in partnership with Visit Estes Park to provide educational online content, contests, and a live streamed concert with Cowboy Brad Fitch (more than 3,000 people from all over the country tuned in).
In other cases, the Events Division was able to successfully modify an event to make it both safe and enjoyable for the attendees. We developed an extensive, detailed COVID-19 Action Plan for Equestrian Events. The plan was approved by the County and in July we were awarded a variance that allowed us to safely hold the Colorado Hunter Jumper Association Shows, the Ranch Horse competition, the Estes Park Dressage Show, the Colorado Regulators mounted shooting competition, and the Senior Pro Rodeo at the Events Complex. We also were able to work within the County guidelines to provide a safe venue for the Vizsla Club of America national dog show as well as a number of small, private weddings at the O'Connor Pavilion.
Additionally, we were pleased to be able to safely host a number of other outdoor events including, the Estes Valley Farmers Market each Thursday at the Visitor Center, as well as the weekly Monday Artisans Market at George Hix Riverside Plaza.
The beloved annual Catch the Glow Parade, which usually kicks off the holiday season the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, presented unique challenges. We could not get County approval to hold the traditional annual parade through downtown Estes Park - it would have unsafely gathered too many people into the downtown area. We could only hold an event where people would be safely distanced in their own private vehicles. So we created the drive-through Catch the Glow Festival of Lights to be a COVID “zero contact” event. Following right on the heels of the evacuation of the entire town (and nearly all of our staff) due to the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires, we had to work quickly to adapt this event and get everything built and in place.
In October and November, the Events Complex also hosted the Emergency Operations Center and Forward Operating Base for wildland firefighters from the Incident Management Team and dozens of support agencies. At one point, there were more than 800 firefighters and support staff utilizing the fairgrounds facilities. Our staff also provided COVID temperature testing and other support for the Emergency Operations Center. The Complex bustled with activity 24 hours a day for many weeks.
Meanwhile, we built the Festival of Lights decorations while working around and accommodating fire apparatus, support trailers, and providing services to the firefighters, etc. We assembled dozens of lighted snowmen, snowflakes, and other decorations, and strung up thousands of feet of string and rope lights throughout the Events Complex. Other logistical challenges for the festival included shipping delays caused when deliveries were halted, delayed, or even permanently lost due to the wildfire evacuations and closures.
Ultimately, everything fell into place and the Catch the Glow Festival of Lights was well-attended with to overwhelmingly positive reviews. More than 3,775 vehicles passed through the festival over two weekends. Having never presented an event like this before, we consider that a tremendous success, and we are delighted that so many enjoyed it.
Given the ongoing pandemic, what lies ahead in 2021 remains uncertain, but we will continue to evaluate each upcoming event to determine what we can offer with the safety of our residents (and our guests) in mind. Here is where we stand with events that typically occur during the first half of each year.
Winter Fest, normally held in January, is canceled for 2021.
Wine & Chocolate Festival, normally in February, may be offered later in 2021.
Whiskey Warm Up, normally in March, may be offered later in 2021.
Bigfoot Days is tentatively scheduled for April with modifications.
Wool Market is tentatively scheduled for June with modifications.
Please watch our website at
com and follow us on Facebook
@Estesevents to find the latest updates. We look forward to seeing you as events resume.